What is Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC)?
Inflammatory breast cancer is a rapidly progressing and very aggressive disease in which cancer cells block lymph vessels in the skin of the breast. This type of breast cancer is called “inflammatory” because the breast often looks swollen and red, or inflamed.
Inflammatory breast cancer is rare, accounting for 1 to 5 percent of all breast cancers diagnosed in the United States. Most inflammatory breast cancers are invasive ductal carcinomas, which means they developed from cells that line the milk ducts of the breast and then spread beyond the ducts.
Inflammatory breast cancer progresses rapidly, often in a matter of weeks or months. At diagnosis, inflammatory breast cancer is either stage III or IV disease, depending on whether cancer cells have spread only to nearby lymph nodes or to other tissues as well.
The Inflammatory Breast Cancer International Consortium (IBC-IC) is focused on collaborating and advancing research, education and information that will not only lead to the best outcomes and cures for IBC throughout the world—but also improve screening, early detection and treatment options.
Symptoms of Inflammatory Breast Cancer
IBC symptoms can include:
- Rapid swelling (edema) and redness (erythema) that affect a third or more of the breast
- Skin of the breast may appear pitted like the skin of an orange (called peau d’orange)
- Associated pink, red or purple skin rash
- Abnormal breast warmth, itchiness, tenderness or pain
- Retracted nipple
- Swollen lymph nodes may be present under the arm, near the collarbone, or both
- Sometimes the breast may contain a solid tumor that can be felt during a physical exam, but more often a tumor cannot be felt
How is Inflammatory Breast Cancer Diagnosed?
Because IBC is often misdiagnosed as a breast infection or mastitis, it is most important to have a correct diagnosis as soon as possible.
A skin punch biopsy, core biopsy, breast MRI, ultrasound of the breast and local nodes and CT or PET can provide important information in making a correct diagnosis and appropriate staging of IBC. A clinician or breast oncologist who has experience with IBC can provide additional expertise in guiding the diagnosis of this rarer form of breast cancer.
Treatment of Inflammatory Breast Cancer
At diagnosis, IBC is either Stage III or IV disease, depending on whether cancer cells have spread only to nearby lymph nodes or to other tissues as well. Standard IBC treatments include preoperative chemotherapy or systemic therapy to help shrink the tumor; then surgery to remove the tumor, most often a modified radical mastectomy; followed by radiation therapy.
Regardless of the stage of the cancer, treatment of IBC requires an experienced multidisciplinary team with demonstrated expertise in the management of this condition and access to more advanced diagnostic tests and new drugs.