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.

Quick GuideBreast Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment

Breast Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment

What is inflammatory breast cancer?

Inflammatory breast cancer is a rare and aggressive 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.

What are the causes and risk factors for inflammatory breast cancer?

The causes and risk factors for inflammatory breast cancer are the same as those for breast cancer in general. Certain genetic mutations and family history of breast cancer are two of the known risk factors. However, inflammatory breast cancer tends to affect certain women more frequently than others (See "How is inflammatory breast cancer different from other 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 (or extent of spread) 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.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 8/24/2016

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