Inflammatory breast cancer spreads more rapidly than other cancers. Treatment usually includes chemotherapy, followed by surgery and then radiotherapy. Further treatment with biological therapy or hormonal therapy may be prescribed if tests suggest this may be beneficial.
With many forms of breast cancer, chemotherapy is administered after a tumor is surgically removed in order to target and destroy any cancer cells that may be remaining after the bulk of the tumor has been removed.
In inflammatory breast cancer, however, there is usually involvement of the whole of the breast by time the condition is diagnosed. Chemotherapy is therefore administered before surgery is performed. This is called neoadjuvant chemotherapy and it is used to kill cancer cells and shrink the cancer to increase the likelihood of surgery being successful. Chemotherapy may be administered for 4 to 6 months before an operation takes place.
Following chemotherapy, most women usually undergo surgical removal of the breast or mastectomy. The whole breast, including the nipple and nearby lymph nodes are removed.
Following surgery, radiation therapy may be administered to destroy any remaining cancer cells.
Biological therapy or targeted therapy refers to drugs that recognize and attach to certain protein receptors present on some cancer cells.
In around 60% of women with inflammatory breast cancer, the tumors are made up of cancer cells that express a large amount of the HER2 receptor on their surfaces. This is called HER2-positive breast cancer and it can be treated with a drug called trastuzumab (Herceptin) that is specifically designed to target and latch onto these HER2 receptors. This prevents further stimulation of the cancer cell's growth.
Another available treatment that may benefit some women is hormonal therapy. Cancers comprising cells that display estrogen receptors on their surfaces, for example, are called ER-positive breast cancers and their growth is stimulated by estrogen binding to their receptors. These cancers can be treated with hormonal therapy to counteract the effects of estrogen, either by reducing the amount of estrogen made in the body or by preventing the estrogen from reaching the cancer cells.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc