Inflammatory breast cancer

Inflammatory breast cancer is a rare and little-known form of breast cancer that produces no lumps and can not usually be detected with a mammogram. Experts say thousands of women develop it each year, but unfortunately, many of them miss the early symptoms.

“Inflammatory breast cancer can develop very quickly and can often be mistaken as an insect bite or infection or inflammation in the breast,” says Valerie Gorman, breast surgeon on the medical staff at Baylor Medical Center at Waxahachie. “IBC is very similar to mastitis, a common breast infection, so it is easily mistaken as this. But if antibiotics do not clear up the infection within a week, a biopsy should be performed to rule out breast cancer.”

Not only are the symptoms of IBC difficult for patients and sometimes even doctors to recognize, but it's usually not detected primarily by mammograms alone. Why? Unlike most types of breast cancer, IBC does not present as a lump.

According to the National Cancer Institute, symptoms usually develop quickly—over a period of weeks or months. Typical symptoms of IBC include:

  • Redness, swelling or warmth in the breast
  • A pink, reddish purple or bruised appearance on the skin of the breast
  • Ridges that develop on the skin of the breast
  • Heaviness, tenderness or an aching or burning sensation in the breast 
  • A sudden increase in breast size
  • Swollen lymph nodes under the arm or above the collarbone

Nearly all women diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) all say the same thing—they never thought the changes in their breast could be breast cancer,” says Dr. Gorman. “Early diagnosis is critical because IBC is aggressive and can spread to other parts of the body very quickly."

Around four-percent of the cancers diagnosed each year are IBC, but it's more common in women under 50 and in African-Americans.

If you suspect that you may have inflammatory breast cancer consult with your physician.

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