Inflammatory Breast Cancer

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP
    Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP

    Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP

    Dr. Balentine received his undergraduate degree from McDaniel College in Westminster, Maryland. He attended medical school at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine graduating in1983. He completed his internship at St. Joseph's Hospital in Philadelphia and his Emergency Medicine residency at Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center in the Bronx, where he served as chief resident.

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Breast Cancer Pictures Slideshow: A Visual Guide to Breast Cancer

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 signs and symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer?

Unlike most breast cancers, which may or may not cause any symptoms, inflammatory breast cancer produces signs and symptoms of inflammation in the breast tissue, including

  • swelling and redness that affect a large part (at least one-third) of the breast,
  • pitting,
  • dimpling,
  • bruising,
  • orange peel (peau d'orange) appearance due to the buildup of lymphatic fluid,
  • nipple may be pulled inward (inverted).

Other possible symptoms and signs include

  • a rapid increase in size of the breast,
  • heaviness,
  • burning,
  • tenderness.

Sometimes, a mass or lump can be felt in the breast, but commonly no mass can be felt. Enlarged lymph nodes may be present in the underarm or near the collarbone.

While the symptoms of inflammation in the breast are characteristic of inflammatory breast cancer, they can also arise due to infections and other conditions, so any unusual symptoms or changes in the breasts should be evaluated by a medical professional.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/6/2015
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