Inflammatory Breast Cancer

What is Inflammatory Breast Cancer?

Inflammatory breast cancer is characterized by redness and swelling of the breast tissue. The redness and swelling occur when the lymphatic vessels are blocked by cancer cells. It can visually mimic a breast infection (mastitis) before the diagnosis is confirmed.

It is a particularly aggressive and rare stage III or IV breast cancer that usually starts in milk duct cells. The direct cause is unknown. It most often strikes younger women, African-American women, and those who are obese. However, the risk increases with age. It can also strike men, but they are usually older when diagnosed.

Diagnostic tests include

  • Physical exam
  • Imaging
  • Tissue biopsy

What are the Symptoms of Inflammatory Breast Cancer?

Because inflammatory breast cancer advances very quickly, it can appear in between scheduled mammograms and physical exams. It often goes undetected anyway because it cannot be felt with the fingertips. It is not lumpy like other types of breast cancers. Therefore it can even go undetected on mammograms.

Symptoms include

  • Unusual breast warmth
  • Pitted or ribbed breast tissue (orange peel appearance)
  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Enlargement or heaviness of one breast
  • Skin discoloration
  • Achiness, painful or tender breast
  • Inverted or flat nipple
  • Swollen lymph nodes around collarbone and/or under arm
  • Quickly changing abnormalities

How is Inflammatory Breast Cancer Treated?

Treatments for inflammatory breast cancer depends on the stage and overall health.

Treatments include

  • Chemotherapy
  • Surgical removal of the tumor
  • Radiation therapy
  • Hormone therapy – if hormone receptors are responsive
  • A combination of treatments and therapies to lessen the risk of recurrence
  • Clinical trials
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Last Reviewed:
September 21, 2016
Last Updated:
September 01, 2017