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.
This type of breast cancer spreads within weeks. Delaying treatment can have a huge impact on your health. Knowing the signs of IBC and seeing your doctor right away is the best defense against this disease.
IBC 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 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 IBC 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.
Symptoms, which may worsen within days or even hours, include:
Many IBC symptoms – reddening, swelling, warmth and itching – can also be signs of a breast infection. IBC is frequently misdiagnosed and treated with antibiotics. Discuss the possibility of IBC with your doctor if you experience any symptoms and you:
Early detection is critical to successfully treating this disease. 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.
When breast cancer is found early, there are more treatment options. Learn more by downloading our free guide or request a mammogram.