A Cancer You May Not Know About: Inflammatory Breast Cancer

In our last: ABT blog we discussed “Early Breast Cancer-Signs”. In this blog, we want to share some information about a rare but deadly form of breast cancer that strikes women at a slightly younger median age of 57 as opposed to other kinds of breast cancer, which strike at a median age of about 62.

Most women associate “lumps” with “breast cancer.” They focus on “finding a lump” when they do self-exams, and mammograms are designed to detect lumps. But you should know that there is another kind of breast cancer that causes no lumps, grows and spreads rapidly, becomes visible within days or weeks of onset, and is usually mistaken for a common bacterial infection. And because most women associate only “lumps” with breast cancer, they may ignore inflammatory breast cancer symptoms altogether.

Inflammatory breast cancer develops in the milk ducts and then spreads quickly and aggressively beyond the ducts. Therefore it does not show up on mammograms as a lump and cannot be detected as a lump through physical exams by a doctor or through self-exams. Because inflammatory breast cancer is difficult to detect and is often confused with common bacterial infections, catching this kind of cancer requires knowledge of and careful attention to inflammatory breast cancer symptoms.

The Sobering Statistics

  • Inflammatory breast cancer is aggressive and spreads very quickly, usually within weeks, from the breast to other parts of the body.
  • Inflammatory breast cancer is rare, accounting for 1 to 5 % of all breast cancers diagnosed in the US.
  • Inflammatory breast cancer is responsible of 8 to 10% of deaths from breast cancer.
  • The survival rate is 30 to 40 % at five years.

These sobering statistics make early breast cancer detection critical. One way to detect this cancer early is by recognizing the symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer and acting on them quickly.

What Are the Primary Symptoms of Inflammatory Breast Cancer in Women?

  • Swelling and redness over a third or more of the breast.
  • Pink, red-purple, or bruised appearance of the breast skin.
  • Ridges or pitting of the breast skin. The breast looks like an orange peel. This symptom is called “peau d’orange.”
  • Rapid increase in breast size.
  • Sensation of heaviness, burning, or tenderness in the breast.
  • Inverted nipple (facing inward).
  • Swollen lymph nodes under the arm, near the collarbone, or in both places.
  • Hardened breast.
  • Thickening of the skin of the breast.
  • Breast has a warm or “feverish” feeling to the touch.

Symptoms of Inflammatory Breast Cancer

Most of the time, women with these symptoms have mastitis, an infection of the breast tissue easily cured with oral antibiotics. Therefore, doctors usually suspect mastitis and treat patients with inflammatory breast cancer symptoms with antibiotics.

One salient difference between mastitis and inflammatory breast cancer, however, is that with mastitis, the patient usually has a fever. Also, while mastitis can occur in any woman of any age at any time in her life, it is most common among women who are breast feeding.

What You Should Do If You Develop Any Symptoms of Inflammatory Breast Cancer

The problem is that because inflammatory breast cancer grows and spreads very quickly, the cancer may already have begun spreading to nearby lymph nodes by the time the patient notices symptoms. That means there is no time to waste.

Because this cancer is aggressive and its symptoms mimic a common bacterial infection, it is especially important to recognize and act immediately if you have any symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer.

  • Do not wait to alert your doctor if the symptoms don’t disappear after one to two weeks on an antibiotic.
  • Be very proactive about discussing the possibility of inflammatory breast cancer with your doctor.
  • Consider seeing a breast specialist. Because this cancer is rare, some doctors may never have seen a case of it over the course of their careers.
  • Be aware that diagnosing inflammatory breast cancer requires a biopsy and sometimes a mammogram, which can detect skin thickening.

Knowledge is Power

A few good resources to educate and inform you about inflammatory breast cancer:




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Ted Pelot Owner & President of Crime Scene Cleanup Company - Advanced Bio-Treatment