Inflammatory Breast Cancer
What is inflammatory breast cancer?
Inflammatory breast cancer is a rare, fast-growing type of breast cancer. It is often called IBC for short.
Unlike other breast cancers, this type of cancer may not cause a lump in the breast. So regular breast exams and mammograms often fail to catch it early. Because it grows so fast, it usually has spread by the time it is diagnosed.
What causes inflammatory breast cancer?
In this type of cancer, the cancer cells often do not form lumps in the breast. Instead, the cancer cells block the lymph vessels that normally keep lymph fluid moving in the breast.
When the normal flow of lymph fluid is blocked, it can make the breast look swollen and red and feel warm, as if it were infected. The swelling may cause lots of tiny dimples in the skin. Sometimes it causes a lump that grows quickly, but you can have inflammatory breast cancer without having a lump in your breast.
What are the symptoms?
Inflammatory breast cancer can cause one or more of these symptoms:
How is inflammatory breast cancer diagnosed?
A biopsy is needed to diagnose this cancer. During a biopsy, the doctor takes a sample of the breast or the breast skin. The sample is looked at in a lab to see if it contains cancer cells.
It's very important to diagnose inflammatory breast cancer quickly so that treatment can begin. But because it is rare and usually doesn't make a lump, doctors may not recognize the symptoms right away. The cancer is often mistaken for other problems, like spider bites, an allergic reaction, or mastitis, which is a breast infection that is usually treated with antibiotics.
Antibiotics do not help inflammatory breast cancer. If your doctor has given you antibiotics and your symptoms do not seem to be getting better after a week, call your doctor.
How is it treated?
It's very important to treat this cancer as soon as possible. And more than one type of treatment may be needed. Treatment starts with anticancer drugs, called chemotherapy. These drugs help shrink the cancer.
Some tests will be done to help find which medicines will work best for you. These tests look at cancer cells from your biopsy to find out what kind of cancer you have. These tests include:
More chemotherapy or hormone therapy (or both) may be used after radiation, especially if cancer has spread to the lymph nodes.
Women who test positive for HER-2 may be treated with trastuzumab (Herceptin) during chemotherapy and afterwards.
Talk with your doctor about taking part in a clinical trial. Many women who have inflammatory breast cancer are good candidates for clinical trials, which study new treatments for IBC and better ways to use current treatments.
How do you cope with having inflammatory breast cancer?
Finding out that you have this cancer is scary, because it is a very serious disease. But there is reason for hope, because treatment is improving. These days, many women are still free of cancer, some even 15 years and longer.
You may want to talk with your doctor about whether you are a good candidate for genetic testing for breast cancer. This can help other members of your family to understand more about their risk of breast cancer.
Talking with others who have the disease can help. Because the disease is so rare, finding a support group can be hard. Your local chapter of the American Cancer Society may be able to help you find a support group.
For more information about inflammatory breast cancer, see the following topics:
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