Inflammatory Breast Cancer

What is Inflammatory Breast Cancer?

Inflammatory breast cancer is a rare but aggressive form of breast cancer responsible for anywhere from one percent to six percent of all breast cancers. According to researchers from the Mayo Clinic, Inflammatory Breast Cancer strikes women at an average age of 59 (slightly younger than the average age for other forms of breast cancer) and is slightly more prevalent in African American women than white women. It develops rapidly making the affected breast red or to appear bruised, swollen and tender and spreads to adjacent lymph nodes just as quickly. Unlike the more common form of breast cancer, distinct masses are typically absent and the breast is often quite painful (pain is usually absent in the more common “mass” form of breast cancer).  The dimpled “peau d’orange” (skin of an orange) appearance of the breast causes many clinicians to diagnose an infection rather than breast cancer.  However, diagnostic studies such as mammography, nuclear medicine scans and biopsy definitively diagnose the deadly disease. Until very recently the prognosis for women diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer was grim at best but new advances in treatment are allowing women afflicted with inflammatory breast cancer a fighting chance at survival.

Signs and Symptoms of Inflammatory Breast Cancer

  • Rapid change in the appearance of one breast, over the course of days or 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
  • Itching
  • Tenderness, pain or aching
  • Enlarged lymph nodes under the arm, above the collarbone or below the collarbone
  • Flattening or turning inward of the nipple
  • Swollen or crusted skin on the nipple
  • Change in color of the skin around the nipple (areola)

Compilation courtesy of the Mayo Clinic

Photo Courtesy of the Inflammatory Breast Cancer Association