breast cancer is a rare, fast-growing type of
breast cancer. It is often called IBC for short.
Unlike other breast cancers, this type of cancer may not cause a
lump in the breast. So regular breast exams and
mammograms often fail to catch it early. Because it
grows so fast, it usually has spread by the time it is diagnosed.
type of cancer, the cancer cells often do not form lumps in the breast.
Instead, the cancer cells block the
lymph vessels that normally keep lymph fluid moving in
When the normal flow of lymph fluid is blocked, it
can make the breast look swollen and red and feel warm, as if it were
infected. The swelling may cause lots of tiny dimples
in the skin. Sometimes it causes a lump that grows quickly, but you can have
inflammatory breast cancer without having a lump in your breast.
Inflammatory breast cancer
can cause one or more of these symptoms:
biopsy is needed to diagnose this cancer. During a biopsy, the doctor takes a
sample of the breast or the breast skin. The sample is looked at in a lab to
see if it contains cancer cells.
It's very important to diagnose
inflammatory breast cancer quickly so that treatment can begin. But because it
is rare and usually doesn't make a lump, doctors may not recognize the symptoms
right away. The cancer is often mistaken for other problems, like spider bites,
an allergic reaction, or
mastitis, which is a breast infection that is usually
Antibiotics do not help
inflammatory breast cancer. If your doctor has given you antibiotics and your
symptoms do not seem to be getting better after a week, call your
After a biopsy shows that you have this type of cancer,
your doctor will order more tests—such as a mammogram, a
bone scan, or a
CAT scan—to see if the cancer has spread.
It's very important to treat
this cancer as soon as possible. And more than one type of treatment may be
needed. Treatment starts with anticancer drugs, called
chemotherapy. These drugs help shrink the cancer.
Some tests will be done to help find which medicines will work
best for you. These tests look at cancer cells from your biopsy to find out
what kind of cancer you have. These tests include:
Chemotherapy is usually followed by surgery (breast-conserving surgery or mastectomy). During surgery, some of the lymph nodes are removed. Afterwards, most women have radiation therapy.
More chemotherapy or
hormone therapy (or both) may be used after radiation,
especially if cancer has spread to the
Women who test positive for HER-2 may be treated with trastuzumab (Herceptin) during chemotherapy and afterwards.
Talk with your doctor about taking part in a
clinical trial. Many women who have inflammatory breast cancer are good
candidates for clinical trials, which study new treatments for IBC and better ways to use current treatments.
Finding out that you have this cancer is scary, because it is a very
serious disease. But there is reason for hope, because treatment is improving.
These days, many women are still free of cancer, some even 15 years and
You may want to talk with your doctor
about whether you are a good candidate for
genetic testing for breast cancer. This can help other
members of your family to understand more about their risk of breast
Talking with others who have the disease can help. Because
the disease is so rare, finding a support group can be hard. Your local chapter of the American Cancer Society may be able to help you find a support group.
Additional information about inflammatory breast cancer is provided by the National Cancer Institute at www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Sites-Types/IBC.
The American Cancer Society (ACS) conducts educational
programs and offers many services to people with cancer and to their families.
Staff at the toll-free number have information about services and activities
in local areas and can provide referrals to local ACS divisions.
Breastcancer.org is a website dedicated to helping women
understand breast cancer and make good decisions about their treatment. This
site provides information from medical professionals on all aspects of
breast cancer, from screening and surgery to sex and intimacy. The site also offers links
to chat rooms, discussion boards, and "Ask the Expert" online conferences.
The National Cancer Institute (NCI) is a U.S. government
agency that provides up-to-date information about the prevention, detection,
and treatment of cancer. NCI also offers supportive care to people who have cancer
and to their families. NCI information is also available to doctors, nurses,
and other health professionals. NCI provides the latest information about
clinical trials. The Cancer Information Service, a service of NCI, has trained
staff members available to answer questions and send free publications.
Spanish-speaking staff members are also available.
The National Lymphedema Network (NLN) provides education and
guidance to people with lymphedema, health professionals, and the general
public. The NLN provides information on the prevention and management of
primary and secondary lymphedema and supports research to find causes and
treatments for lymphedema.
Other Works Consulted
Burstein HJ, et al. (2011). Malignant tumors of the breast. In VT DeVita Jr et al., eds., DeVita, Hellman and Rosenberg's Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology, 9th ed., vol. 3, pp. 1401–1446. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
Merajver SD, et al. (2010). Inflammatory breast cancer. In JR Harris et al., eds., Diseases of the Breast, 4th ed., pp. 762–773. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
National Cancer Institute (2006). Inflammatory breast cancer: Questions and answers. National Cancer Institute Fact Sheet. Available online: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Sites-Types/IBC.
April 14, 2011
Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine
& Douglas A. Stewart, MD - Medical Oncology
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