Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) is a rare but rapidly growing cancer that gives rise to several signs and symptoms, mostly within a span of three to six months. One of the first signs is most likely to be visible swelling (edema) of the skin of the breast and/or redness of the breast (which covers more than 30 percent of the breast). Other signs and symptoms include:
- Tender, painful, or itchy breasts
- Dimpling or pitting of the breast skin, resembling an orange peel
- The difference in the sizes of the breasts (the affected breast looks larger than the other)
- The affected breast becomes warmer and heavier than the normal breast
- A retracted or an inverted nipple
- Swelling of the lymph nodes near (above or below) the collarbone or under the arms
All these symptoms in IBC are due to the cancer cells blocking the lymph channels in the breast. Having any of these symptoms does not mean that you have IBC. Because of the aggressive nature of the disease, it is important to consult your doctor right away. Your doctor will initially prescribe you antibiotics and see the response.
What is the difference between inflammatory breast cancer and other types of breast cancer?
- The appearance of IBC is quite different from that of typical breast cancer. There is no breast lump, and a mammogram would not be able to detect it. Hence, diagnosis of IBC is difficult.
- IBC is more common in women younger than 40 years.
- African American women are more likely to develop IBC than white women.
- IBC is more common among obese or overweight women.
- IBC is much more aggressive than other types of cancer.
- Unlike typical breast cancer that can be detected in its earlier stage, IBC is often detected at a later stage.
- The chances of metastasis in IBC are quite high compared with those in other types of breast cancer.
- Women with IBC tend to have a worse treatment outcome than those with other common types of breast cancer.
How is inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) diagnosed?
If you have swelling, redness, or tenderness on your breast that doesn’t subside with antibiotics after a week, your doctor may want to know if you have inflammatory breast cancer (IBC). Your doctor may order one or more of the following tests:
- Mammogram (as a primary screening tool)
- Breast ultrasound
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- Computerized tomography (CT) scan
- Positron emission tomography (PET) scan
- Biopsy (a sure way to confirm cancer that involves a surgical procedure to remove the breast tissue for examination under a microscope)
How is inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) treated?
Once the diagnosis of inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) is confirmed, doctors treat it aggressively. Various treatments may include one or more of the therapies that include:
- Chemotherapy (anti-cancer drugs given before surgery to shrink the tumor and allow surgery)
- Mastectomy (surgery to remove all of your affected breasts)
- Targeted therapy (HER2-targetted therapy if the cancer cells contain too much HER2-protein)
- Hormone therapy (medications to treat the cancer cells that have hormones)
- Radiation (often given after chemotherapy and surgery in the form of high-energy beams targeted toward the tumor)
- Immunotherapy (often given in the advanced stage of cancer by using your immune system to fight cancer)
You can get enrolled yourself in a clinical trial that involves research on newer therapies to treat IBC. You can ask your doctor if you can go ahead with any one of them and, if yes, which one will be right for you.
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Breast cancer is an invasive tumor that develops in the mammary gland. Breast cancer is detected via mammograms, breast self-examination (BSE), biopsy, and specialized testing on breast cancer tissue. Treatment of breast cancer may involve surgery, radiation, hormone therapy, chemotherapy, and targeted therapy. Breast cancer risk may be lowered by managing controllable risk factors.
What you should know about breast cancer
- Breast cancer is the most common cancer among American women.
- One in every eight women in the United States develops breast cancer.
- There are many types of breast cancer that differ in their capability of spreading (metastasize) to other body tissues.
- The causes of breast cancer are unknown, although medical professionals have identified a number of risk factors.
- There are 11 common types of breast cancer and 4 uncommon types of breast cancer.
- Breast cancer early signs and symptoms include
- a lump in the breast or armpit,
- bloody nipple discharge,
- inverted nipple,
- orange-peel texture or dimpling of the breast's skin (peau d'orange),
- breast pain or sore nipple,
- swollen lymph nodes in the neck or armpit, and
- a change in the size or shape of the breast or nipple.
- Breast cancer can also be symptom free, which makes following national screening recommendations an important practice.
- Breast cancer is diagnosed during a physical exam, by a self-exam of the breasts, mammography, ultrasound testing, and biopsy.
- Treatment of breast cancer depends on the type of cancer and its stage (0-IV) and may involve surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy.
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