Inflammatory Breast Cancer

What is inflammatory breast cancer (IBC)?

Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) is rare and is sometimes thought to be some kind of infection. However, this kind of cancer can develop and spread quickly (said to be aggressive). It causes redness, swelling, and dimpling in the affected breast. IBC does not usually cause lumps to form in breast tissue. Instead, it appears as a rash or skin texture similar to an orange peel.

The condition results when cancer cells block lymph vessels—small, hollow tubes allowing lymph fluid to drain out of the breast.

Because IBC can grow quickly (is aggressive), it requires immediate treatment. Doctors usually treat IBC with a combination of therapies, including chemotherapy, surgery and radiation therapy.

Who is likely to have inflammatory breast cancer (IBC)?

Anyone can develop inflammatory breast cancer, including men. The condition occurs at a median age of 57 in women, which is younger than the median age for other breast cancers. It happens more often in African American women than white women, and in women who are overweight or obese.

How often does inflammatory breast cancer occur (IBC)?

IBC makes up approximately 1-5 percent of breast cancers diagnosed in the United States.

What causes inflammatory breast cancer (IBC)?

Inflammatory breast cancer develops when cancer cells block lymph vessels. These tubes, which are hollow, allow lymph fluid to drain out of the breast.

In most cases of IBC, cancer cells spread outward (metastasize) from lymph vessels. When cancer metastasizes, it affects the skin and other organs and is more difficult to treat.

What are the symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer (IBC)?

Symptoms of IBC usually take just 3-6 months to develop. Your symptoms may include:

  • A red or purple color or a rash spread over one-third of the breast
  • Pitting, thickening, or dimpling of skin on the breast, so that it looks like an orange peel, a condition called peau d’orange
  • Inverted or retracted nipple (a nipple that points inward)
  • Pain, swelling, itchiness, burning, or tenderness
  • Sensations of warmth or heaviness within the breast
  • Increase in the size of one breast only
  • Swollen lymph nodes near the collarbone or under the arm

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