What is inflammatory breast cancer? It is a rare but very aggressive form of breast cancer that happens very quickly. It does not start out in the form of a lump in the breast as other forms of breast cancer do. Instead, it presents as an inflammatory process. In other words, this disease makes the breast and even nearby tissues appear red, swollen, painful and irritated. Due to its nature, this type of cancer can spread to nearby lymph nodes and other tissues in a very fast manner.
Who is at risk of developing inflammatory breast cancer? Women who are in their late 50’s. This disease can even affect men but usually at a later age. Black women are much more likely to develop inflammatory breast cancer than white women are.
What are the signs and symptoms of this disease? Look for any discoloration of one breast. This can include red, pink, or bluish tint to the skin such as a bruised appearance. Watch for rapid changes to the breast that happen over a few days or a few weeks. These can be associated with this disease. This can include itching, pain, tenderness, and warmth in one breast. These can be symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer. Inverting or turning in of a nipple, swollen, tender or crusted nipples can be symptoms of this as well. Watch out for changes in the skin of the breast like dimpling or the skin changing to look similar to an orange peel. If the breast becomes very heavy, thicker or looks much larger it can be a symptom of inflammatory breast disease.
Please note that a lot of these symptoms can be related to mastitis or an infection of the breast as well. However most women only experience mastitis when breast feeding infants. It is very rare for a woman to contract mastitis otherwise. If a woman has mastitis the disease will be resolved when the woman is given antibiotics. If she has inflammatory breast cancer, the symptoms will not improve with antibiotic therapy. Women with mastitis usually run a fever. Women with cancer rarely run a fever with the disease. These symptoms can be caused by breast surgery or radiation treatment as well but if caused by these two procedures, the symptoms will subside within a short amount of time. Anyone with these symptoms should be evaluated by medical personnel in order to find out which process is going on and to get appropriate treatment.
What are the causes of inflammatory breast cancer: As with most types of cancer, the exact cause of this disease process is unknown. Scientists do know that in this disease, abnormal cells are developed and released in the ducts of the breasts. These types of abnormal cells multiply at a rapid rate and block the lymph system in the breast and in the skin. This causes the inflammation, tenderness and the discoloration that occurs with inflammatory breast cancer.
How can a person be tested for inflammatory breast disease? Since this disease does not involve tumor formation, a physician has to do a biopsy in order to give a definitive diagnosis after performing a thorough history and physical and ruling out other processes.
What is the treatment for inflammatory breast cancer? Inflammatory breast cancer is first treated by aggressive chemotherapy to stop the progression of the disease to the lymphatic system and to other organs of the body. After chemotherapy has either successfully killed or stopped the progression of the cancer cells, a mastectomy or removal of the breast surgically is usually performed. Chemotherapy is performed after surgery then a round of radiation is done to kill any remaining cancer cells.
This treatment has given women more hope with inflammatory breast cancer. About half of the women with this disease have been able to survive for at least 5 years. One third of women with this disease have been able to survive up to twenty years with this disease with the treatment regimen listed above.