About inflammatory breast cancer
What is inflammatory breast cancer?
Inflammatory breast cancer is a rare form of breast cancer. It is typically a very aggressive disease and is called "inflammatory" because the cancer cells block the lymphatic vessels, resulting in changes in the breast (swelling and redness) that make the breast appear to be inflamed. Over 230,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with breast cancer each year; inflammatory breast cancers make up only 1%-5% of breast cancers.
How is inflammatory breast cancer different from other breast cancers?
Inflammatory breast cancer is typically an aggressive form of cancer that spreads rapidly. Because it involves the lymphatic system and has invaded the lymph vessels at the time of diagnosis, it is already at a more advanced stage (see below) than many breast cancers when it is discovered. This type of breast cancer is usually found in women at a younger age than most breast cancers; the median age for diagnosis of inflammatory breast cancer is 57 years compared to 62 years for all breast cancers.
Inflammatory breast cancer is more common in African American women than in Caucasian women and is diagnosed at an earlier age. In Africa American women, the median age at diagnosis of inflammatory breast cancer is 54 years, compared with 58 years for Caucasian women. Inflammatory breast cancer is also more common in obese women than in women with normal body weight.
Inflammatory breast cancers often are hormone receptor negative, meaning that their cells do not have receptors for estrogen or progesterone on the surface. This means that therapies (such as tamoxifen [Nolvadex]) that target estrogen-driven tumor growth are unlikely to be effective.
What are the symptoms for inflammatory breast cancer?
Signs and symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer include:
- Rapid change in the appearance of one breast, over the course of several weeks
- Thickness, heaviness or visible enlargement of one breast
- Discoloration, giving the breast a red, purple, pink or bruised appearance
- Unusual warmth of the affected breast
- Dimpling or ridges on the skin of the affected breast, similar to an orange peel
- Tenderness, Pain or aching
- Enlarged lymph nodes under the arm, above the collarbone or below the collarbone
- Flattening or turning inward of the nipple
Inflammatory breast cancer doesn't commonly form a lump, as occurs with other forms of breast cancer.
When to see a doctor
Make an appointment with your doctor if you notice any signs or symptoms that worry you.
Other more common conditions have signs and symptoms resembling those of inflammatory breast cancer. A breast injury or breast infection (mastitis) may cause redness, Swelling and pain.
Inflammatory breast cancer can be easily confused with a breast infection, which is much more common. It's reasonable and common to be initially treated with antibiotics for a week or more. If your symptoms respond to antibiotics, then additional testing isn't necessary. But if the Redness does not improve, then your doctor may consider more serious causes of your symptoms, such as inflammatory breast cancer.
If you've been treated for a breast infection but your signs and symptoms persist, contact your doctor. Your doctor may recommend a mammogram or other test to evaluate your signs and symptoms. The only way to determine if your symptoms are caused by inflammatory breast cancer is to do a biopsy to remove a sample of tissue for testing.
What are the causes for inflammatory breast cancer?
It's not clear what causes inflammatory breast cancer.
Doctors know that inflammatory breast cancer begins with an abnormal cell in one of the breast's ducts. Mutations within the abnormal cell's DNA instruct it to grow and divide rapidly. The accumulating abnormal cells infiltrate and clog the lymphatic vessels in the skin of your breast. The blockage in the lymphatic vessels causes red, swollen and dimpled skin — a classic sign of inflammatory breast cancer.
What are the treatments for inflammatory breast cancer?
Staging of a cancer refers to the determination of how far the tumor has spread at the time of diagnosis. Staging is determined by a variety of methods including results from surgical procedures, lymph node biopsy, and imaging tests. Staging is important because it aids in developing a treatment plan.
Cancer in situ (DCIS) is referred to as stage 0, because the tumor cells have not invaded. Invasive breast cancers are staged along a scale of I to IV, with stage I being the earliest stage and stage IV representing tumors that have metastasized to distant organs like the bones, lungs, or brain. Because inflammatory breast cancers have already spread into the lymphatic vessels and cause symptoms related to this presence in the lymphatic system, inflammatory breast cancers are stage III or stage IV at diagnosis.
What are the risk factors for inflammatory breast cancer?
Factors that increase the risk of inflammatory breast cancer include:
- Being a woman. Women are more likely to be diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer than are men — but men can develop inflammatory breast cancer, too.
- Being . Black women have a higher risk of inflammatory breast cancer than do white women.
- Being obese. People who are obese have a greater risk of inflammatory breast cancer compared with those of normal weight.