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Home > Patients & Visitors > Health Library > Inflammatory Breast Cancer
breast cancer is a rare, fast-growing type of
breast cancer. It is often called IBC for short.
Unlike other breast cancers, this type of cancer may not cause a
lump in the breast. So regular breast exams and
mammograms often fail to catch it early. Because it
grows so fast, it usually has spread by the time it is diagnosed.
type of cancer, the cancer cells often do not form lumps in the breast.
Instead, the cancer cells block the
lymph vessels that normally keep lymph fluid moving in
When the normal flow of lymph fluid is blocked, it
can make the breast look swollen and red and feel warm, as if it were
infected. The swelling may cause lots of tiny dimples
in the skin. Sometimes it causes a lump that grows quickly, but you can have
inflammatory breast cancer without having a lump in your breast.
Inflammatory breast cancer can cause one or more of these symptoms:
biopsy is needed to diagnose this cancer. During a biopsy, the doctor takes a
sample of the breast or the breast skin. The sample is looked at in a lab to
see if it contains cancer cells.
It's very important to diagnose
inflammatory breast cancer quickly so that treatment can begin. But because it
is rare and usually doesn't make a lump, doctors may not recognize the symptoms
right away. The cancer is often mistaken for other problems, like spider bites,
an allergic reaction, or
mastitis, which is a breast infection that is usually
Antibiotics do not help
inflammatory breast cancer. If your doctor has given you antibiotics and your
symptoms do not seem to be getting better after a week, call your
After a biopsy shows that you have this type of cancer,
your doctor will order more tests—such as a mammogram, a
bone scan, or a
CAT scan—to see if the cancer has spread.
It's very important to treat
this cancer as soon as possible. And more than one type of treatment may be
needed. Treatment starts with anticancer drugs, called
chemotherapy. These drugs help shrink the cancer.
Some tests will be done to help find which medicines will work
best for you. These tests look at cancer cells from your biopsy to find out
what kind of cancer you have. These tests include:
Chemotherapy is usually followed by surgery (mastectomy). During surgery, some of the lymph nodes are removed. Afterwards, most women have radiation therapy.
More chemotherapy or
hormone therapy (or both) may be used after radiation,
especially if cancer has spread to the
Women who test positive for HER-2 may be treated with trastuzumab (Herceptin) during chemotherapy and afterwards.
Talk with your doctor about taking part in a
clinical trial. Many women who have inflammatory breast cancer are good
candidates for clinical trials, which study new treatments for IBC and better ways to use current treatments.
Inflammatory breast cancer is a very
serious disease. But there is reason for hope, because treatment is improving.
These days, many women are still free of cancer, some even 15 years and
Talking with others who have breast cancer can help. To find a support group, contact your local branch of the American Cancer Society.
You may want to talk with your doctor
about whether you are a good candidate for
genetic testing for breast cancer. This can help other
members of your family to understand more about their risk of breast
Additional information about inflammatory breast cancer is provided by the National Cancer Institute at www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Sites-Types/IBC.
Other Works Consulted
Merajver SD, et al. (2010). Inflammatory breast cancer. In JR Harris et al., eds., Diseases of the Breast, 4th ed., pp. 762–773. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
Morrow M, et al. (2015). Malignant tumors of the breast. In VT DeVita Jr. et al., eds., DeVita, Hellman, and Rosenberg's Cancer Principles and Practices of Oncology, 10th ed., pp. 1117–1156. Philadelphia: Walters Kluwer.
National Cancer Institute (2012). Breast Cancer Treatment PDQ—Health Professional Version. Available online: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/breast/HealthProfessional.
National Cancer Institute (2012). Inflammatory breast cancer. National Cancer Institute Fact Sheet. Available online: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Sites-Types/IBC.
ByHealthwise StaffPrimary Medical ReviewerSarah Marshall, MD - Family MedicineE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal MedicineSpecialist Medical ReviewerKirtly Jones, MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology
Current as ofJuly 10, 2015
Current as of:
July 10, 2015
Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine & E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine & Kirtly Jones, MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
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