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Inflammatory Breast Cancer : What You Need To Know

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Virtually every woman alive is aware of the signs and symptoms of breast cancer. They are aware they should do monthly self-exams, feeling for lumps and noting any changes. They follow the recommended guidelines and get mammograms when they are supposed to. But many women are unaware of another type of dangerous breast cancer: Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC).

What Is IBC?

This is an extremely aggressive and rare breast cancer. Cancerous cells block the lymph vessels, which lie in the skin of the breast. It is called inflammatory breast cancer because these blocked vessels make the skin swollen, hot, and red.

The cancer cells usually generate from the milk ducts and then move throughout. Unfortunately, inflammatory breast cancer is already at stage 3 or 4 at diagnosis, depending on whether or not it has spread to the lymph nodes, which it almost always has. Additionally, in 1 out of 3 persons, the cancer has metastasized to other areas.

What Are The Symptoms of IBC?

Noticeable skin changes are a common first symptom. The skin may look mottled or bruised. It may also have a pitted look, similar to an orange peel. This is due to the increasing fluid buildup as the lymph vessels become blocked.

Unlike traditional breast cancer, a lump is not usually present. The breast may increase in size rapidly, become reddened, and feel hot and tender, or inflamed. The adjoining lymph nodes in the armpit or collarbone may also be swollen and tender.

Inflammatory breast cancer can progress extremely quickly, with the symptoms growing worse in a matter of days or even hours.But because these symptoms can mimic other conditions, like mastitis or even a simple injury, diagnosis can be delayed while other things are ruled out. 

How Is IBC Diagnosed?

Without a palpable lump, inflammatory breast cancer isn't likely to show up on a mammogram. Additionally, the rapid, aggressive nature of the disease means that a mammogram or other screening isn't likely to catch it anyway. Because of this, professionals have come up with a list of diagnostic criteria required for an affirmative diagnosis:

  • Rapid onset of swelling and redness
  • Skin pitting
  • Biopsy sample results test positive for invasive carcinoma

How Is IBC Treated?

Inflammatory breast cancer is initially treated with several rounds of chemotherapy. This is frequently followed by surgery, and then radiation. Hormone therapy may also be incorporated. Breast reconstructive surgery, if needed, can be done after the radiation.

Due to its aggressive nature, it is extremely important to see a doctor (such as one from Sturdy Memorial Hospital) immediately if you suddenly exhibit any of the typical symptoms associated with inflammatory breast cancer.