Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) is a rare but rapidly growing cancer that gives rise to several signs and symptoms, mostly within a span of three to six months. One of the first signs is most likely to be visible swelling (edema) of the skin of the breast and/or redness of the breast (covers more than 30 percent of the breast). Other signs and symptoms include:
- Tender, painful, or itchy breasts
- Dimpling or pitting of the breast skin, resembling an orange peel
- Difference in the sizes of the breasts (the affected breast looks larger than the other)
- The affected breast becomes warmer and heavier than the normal breast
- A retracted or an inverted nipple
- Swelling of the lymph nodes near (above or below) the collarbone or under the arms
All these symptoms in IBC are due to the cancer cells blocking the lymph channels in the breast. Having any of these symptoms does not mean that you have IBC. Because of the aggressive nature of the disease, it is important to consult your doctor right away. Your doctor will initially prescribe you antibiotics and see the response.
What is the difference between inflammatory breast cancer and other types of breast cancer?
There are quite a lot of distinct differences. Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) differs from other types of breast cancer in the following ways:
- The appearance of IBC is quite different from that of typical breast cancer. There is no breast lump, and a mammogram would not be able to detect it. Hence, diagnosis of IBC is difficult.
- IBC is more common in women younger than 40 years.
- African American women are more likely to develop IBC than white women.
- IBC is more common among obese or overweight women.
- IBC is much more aggressive than other types of cancer.
- Unlike typical breast cancer that can be detected in its earlier stage, IBC is often detected at a later stage.
- The chances of metastasis in IBC are quite high compared with those in other types of breast cancer.
- Women with IBC tend to have a worse treatment outcome than those with other common types of breast cancer.
How is inflammatory breast cancer diagnosed
If you have swelling, redness, or tenderness on your breast that doesn’t subside with antibiotics after a week, your doctor may want to know if you have inflammatory breast cancer (IBC). Your doctor may order one or more of the following tests:
- Mammogram (as a primary screening tool)
- Breast ultrasound
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- Computerized tomography (CT) scan
- Positron emission tomography (PET) scan
- Biopsy (a sure way to confirm cancer that involves a surgical procedure to remove the breast tissue for examination under a microscope)
How is inflammatory breast cancer treated
Once the diagnosis of inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) is confirmed, doctors treat it aggressively. Various treatments may include one or more of the therapies that include:
- Chemotherapy (anti-cancer drugs given before surgery to shrink the tumor and allow surgery)
- Mastectomy (surgery to remove all of your affected breast)
- Targeted therapy (HER2-targetted therapy if the cancer cells contain too much HER2-protein)
- Hormone therapy (medications to treat the cancer cells that have hormone)
- Radiation (often given after chemotherapy and surgery in the form of high-energy beams targeted toward the tumor)
- Immunotherapy (often given in the advanced stage of cancer by using your immune system to fight cancer)
You can get enrolled yourself in a clinical trial that involves research on newer therapies to treat IBC. You can ask your doctor if you can go ahead with any one of them and, if yes, which one will be right for you.