Inflammatory Breast Cancer – Signs and Symptoms

It may be a surprise to many individuals that there are many different forms of breast cancer. One rare and aggressive form is Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC). IBC tends to appear as an area of irritated, red, swollen skin on the affected breast. This irritation is caused by cancer cells blocking the lymphatic cells in the skin of the breast. Perhaps the most scary thing about this form of breast cancer is that it may not be seen on mammograms or ultrasounds, leading it to commonly being misdiagnosed as an infection. By the time IBC is diagnosed, it has often spread, growing into the skin of the breast and possibly into other areas of the body, most commonly into nearby tissues and lymph nodes.

Many forms of breast cancer present as a lump, but this is rarely the case with IBC. It tends to develop in a manner that is more similar to a sheet underneath the skin, meaning you may be more likely to literally see signs and symptoms before you can feel them. These signs and symptoms may include:

  • Rapid change in the appearance of one breast, taking place in the course of a matter of weeks

  • Visible enlargement of one breast

  • Discoloration, in which the breast takes on hues of red, purple, or pink, or appears bruised

  • A bruise on one breast that does not go away

  • Abnormal warmth in the affected breast

  • Appearance of dimpling or ridges in the skin of the affected breast; may resemble the peel of an orange in texture

  • Aching, pain, or tenderness in one breast

  • Itching on the affected breast

  • Enlarged lymph nodes near the affected breast, such as in the armpit or near the collarbone

  • Change in the appearance of the nipple, such as flattening or inverting

  • Discharge from the nipple

These symptoms may also be indicative of a more common, benign condition, such as an injury or infection. Your doctor may treat your symptoms as one of these more common conditions if she has no additional cause to suspect IBC. If your doctor does offer treatment for a breast infection and symptoms do not subside, however, contact your doctor. She may decide to run some more definitive diagnostic tests. Mammograms and other imaging tests may not always catch IBC, so your doctor may order a biopsy, where a small section of the affected area is removed from the body and the cells are tested.

There is little that one can do to reduce the risk of developing IBC, though it is fortunately an uncommon condition. One has an increased risk for developing IBC if she is a woman, is Black, is older, and/or is obese, but this disease may strike in people with none of these risk factors. If your doctor does determine that you have IBC, treatment may take the form of chemotherapy, surgery, radiation therapy, or even hormone therapy.


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