Most women are familiar with having regular breast exams to check for lumps, a sign of breast cancer. But inflammatory breast cancer (IBC), a rare, aggressive form of the disease, has no detectable lump. And since the symptoms mimic those of mastitis, a breast infection, IBC is often misdiagnosed.
Inflammatory breast cancer spreads within weeks. Delaying treatment can have a huge impact on your health. Knowing the signs of inflammatory breast cancerand seeing your doctor right away is the best defense against this disease.
Why Is Detecting Inflammatory Beast Cancer Early Important?
Inflammatory breast cancer accounts for 1 to 5% of breast cancers diagnosed in the United States, but inflammatory breast cancer has a higher fatality rate than other breast cancers. For one in three people, the cancer has already spread from the breast to other parts of the body by the time they are diagnosed.
Because inflammatory breast cancer rapidly grows through the milk ducts and into breast skin, identifying inflammatory breast cancer as early as possible is key. IBC occurs in women at a younger age compared to other breast cancers and is more common in African-American women and in women who are overweight.
Inflammatory breast cancer is more likely to form in dense breast tissue, which makes it difficult to spot during an annual mammogram screening. So it's essential to become familiar with the symptoms of IBC and seek immediate treatment if you notice anything unusual.
What are the Symptoms of Inflammatory Breast Cancer?
Symptom of inflammatory breast cancer may worsen within days or even hours. These include:
- Rapid swelling of a single breast
- Discoloration that covers more than one-third of the breast (may be pink, red or look bruised)
- Pitting and thickening of the skin resembling an orange peel texture
- Burning, itching or tenderness in the affected breast
- The affected breast feeling warmer and heavier than the other
- Nipple flattening and turning inward
- Swollen lymph nodes in the underarm and/or collarbone area
Getting A Prompt Diagnosis For Inflammatory Breast Cancer
Many inflammatory breast cancer symptoms – reddening, swelling, warmth and itching – can be signs of a breast infection. IBC is frequently misdiagnosed and treated with antibiotics. Discuss the possibility of inflammatory breast cancer with your doctor if you experience any symptoms and you:
- Are not pregnant or breastfeeding – two factors that make breast infections more likely
- Don't have a fever (common with breast infections)
- Have gone through menopause
- Started antibiotics but symptoms are not improving or are worsening
If inflammatory breast cancer is a concern, your doctor may recommend imaging tests such as a 3D mammogram, ultrasound or MRI to get a better look at your condition.
Early detection is critical to successfully treating inflammatory breast cancer. If you experience any symptoms, see one of our primary care doctors as soon as possible. Need a second opinion? Connect with our experts in cancer care for an evaluation.
Make Time For Your Annual Mammogram
When breast cancer is found early, there are more treatment options. Learn more by downloading our free guide or request a mammogram.