Inflammatory Breast Cancer

Medically Reviewed by Dr. K on 29 March 2021

What Is Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC)?

Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) is an uncommon and aggressive form of breast cancer that manifests as a rash or irritated skin region. It obstructs the lymph vessels in your breast skin.

Inflammatory breast cancer is frequently misdiagnosed as an infection because it does not show up on a mammogram or ultrasound. It has normally spread into the tissue of your breast by the time it is diagnosed. It frequently spreads to other areas of the body.

 

How Is Inflammatory Breast Cancer Different From Other Types of Breast Cancer?

Inflammatory breast cancer has the following characteristics as opposed to other types of breast cancer:

  • It has a different appearance — there might be no lumps, but the breast may look bruised, swollen, or inflamed. It's more challenging to detect because it doesn't show up easily in a mammogram.
  • Is more violent than other varieties and spreads more rapidly.
  • It is more common in African-American women to be diagnosed at a younger age.
  • Is more likely to impact women who are overweight.
  • When it's detected, it's usually more advanced (your doctor may call it locally advanced, which means it's spread to surrounding skin).
  • When breast cancer is discovered, it always has progressed outside the breast (your doctor will say it has metastasized), making treatment more difficult.

What Are the Early Signs and Symptoms of Inflammatory Breast Cancer?

Unlike other forms of breast cancer, this one doesn't normally present as a tumour. The disease spreads across the skin in the form of nests or mats.

The below are some of the signs and symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer:

  • Breast pain
  • Changes in the skin of the breast. Pink or reddened areas with the texture and thickness of an orange are common.
  • An unsightly bruise on the breast that refuses to go away
  • Breast swells unexpectedly
  • A rash on the breast
  • Changes in the nipple or discharge
  • Lymph node swelling under the arm or in the neck

These changes often occur in a matter of weeks.

 

Stages of Inflammatory Breast Cancer

There are three stages to this type of cancer:

  • Stage IIIB: All Inflammatory breast cancers start at this stage since they involve the skin of your breast.
  • Stage IIIC: Lymph nodes near your collarbone or within your chest have been infected by this stage.
  • Stage IV: Cancer has spread to other areas of the body from your breast and surrounding lymph nodes.

How Is Inflammatory Breast Cancer Diagnosed?

Your doctor may suspect inflammatory breast cancer if you have swelling or redness in your breast that doesn't go away after a week and doesn't improve with antibiotics. Your breast would be examined in more depth for an ultrasound and other imaging examinations.

One or all of the following tests might be requested by your doctor:

  • Mammogram: This will reveal whether the damaged breast is denser or has thicker skin than the other.
  • MRI: It produces images of the breast and internal body systems using strong magnets and radio waves.
  • CT scan: It's a high-powered X-ray that produces detailed photographs of the internal organs.
  • PET scan: This procedure, when paired with a CT scan, will assist in the diagnosis of cancer in lymph nodes and other sections of the body.
  • Breast ultrasound: Sound waves are used to produce an image of the interior of the breast in this imaging test. It may be able to detect differences that aren't seen on mammograms.
  • Biopsy: A biopsy can definitely diagnose cancer. A specialist will take a tiny piece of breast tissue or skin, then examine it in detail. The sample is normally taken with a needle, although it is often appropriate to create a cut to remove it. Whether or not a mass can be seen on imaging tests can influence the form of biopsy you get. The medical team will analyse the biopsy specimen for any irregular cell development and will screen for proteins related to some cancers. If you've been diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer, further scans will reveal how much of your breast and surrounding tissue has been compromised.

How Is Inflammatory Breast Cancer Treated?

You'll need an active chemotherapy plan since this type of cancer spreads rapidly. It may involve the following:

  • Chemotherapy: This medication is used to shrink the tumour and make the cancer operable until surgery. It further reduces the chances of the cancer returning.
  • Surgery: Chemotherapy can be followed by a mastectomy. This operation removes the whole breast.
  • Targeted therapy: If the cancer cells contain too much of a protein named HER2, you could be administered HER2-targeted medications.
  • Hormone therapy: If the cancer cells have hormone receptors, such medications can be given. These drugs prevent receptors from attaching to hormones by blocking them.
  • Radiation: Radiation treatments are often offered during chemotherapy and surgery to reduce the risk of cancer recurrence.
  • Immunotherapy. These medications work by assisting the immune system in the battle against cancer. They can be administered if you have an early stage of inflammatory breast cancer.
  • Clinical trials: Consult the doctor for clinical research. New medications are tested in clinical trials to see whether they are safe and efficient. They're also seen as a means for patients to explore experimental medication that isn't widely accessible. Your doctor will assist you with finding a study that is a suitable match for you.

 

What’s the Outlook for Inflammatory Breast Cancer?

This cancer is aggressive, and by the time it's detected, it's expected to have spread. It's much more likely than other types to recur. Despite this, each case of cancer is unique. Your prognosis is influenced by a number of factors, including your physical fitness, the stage at which you were diagnosed, the treatment you had, and how your body reacted to it.

Survival rates for inflammatory breast cancer by stage at diagnosis, according to the National Cancer Institute's Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) database, are:

  • Stage III: About 57 months
  • Stage IV: About 21 months

It's necessary to note that these statistics apply to patients who were diagnosed several years earlier. People who are diagnosed and treated now have a longer life span because of the improved treatments available.

Sources

Referenced on 29.3.2021

  1. National Breast Cancer Foundation: “Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC).”
  2. National Cancer Institute: “Inflammatory Breast Cancer.”
  3. American Cancer Society: “Inflammatory Breast Cancer.”
  4. Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Breast Ultrasound.”
  5. News release, FDA.
  6. National Cancer Institute: “Inflammatory Breast Cancer."
  7. American Cancer Society: “Inflammatory Breast Cancer.”
  8. https://www.webmd.com/breast-cancer/inflammatory-breast-cancer#2-6

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