Inflammatory breast cancer is a form of breast cancer that leads to inflammation and swelling of the lymphatic channels of the breast. Rather than forming a lump, cancer cells grow along the inside of the lymph vessels in the breast skin and obstruct them.
The lymph vessels then fail to drain fluids and filter bacteria and waste material from the breast which leads to the typical features of inflammation such as redness, heat, swelling, itching and pain. These are the main symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer.
Other possible symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer include:
A ridged effect across the breast skin
Pitted appearance of the breast skin that resembles orange peel and is referred to as "peau d'orange"
One breast may appear larger and heavier than the other
A lump may be felt within the breast tissue
There may be a discharge from the nipple of the breast
The nipple may be inverted or pulled into the breast
Lymph nodes in the neck, collar bone and armpits may be swollen
Unlike other forms of breast cancer, the onset of symptoms in inflammatory breast cancer can occur suddenly. The symptoms are similar to those seen in breast infection and the condition can be confused with mastitis.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc