Detection >> Inflammatory Breast Cancer or Simple Mastitis?
Inflammatory Breast Cancer or Simple Mastitis?

Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) is a rare form of breast cancer. Only 1 to 5% of women diagnosed with breast cancer are diagnosed with this very aggressive form of it, and it usually strikes younger women (45-50 years old). IBC involves the lymphatic system of the breast forming "sheets" or "nests" rather than a solid tumor like many other forms of cancer. As a result, it is more difficult for doctors to diagnose.

Signs to look for are:

  • Unusual and rapid increase in the size of the breast
  • Redness, rash or other form of skin discoloration
  • Itching of the breast or nipple
  • Thickening of breast tissue
  • Warmth in the breast
  • A stabbing pain and/or breast soreness
  • Dimpling of the breast, or nipple inversion or flattening
  • Nipple discharge
  • Swollen lymph nodes under the arm, above the collarbone, or in both places

Keep in mind that many of these symptoms can indicate other non-malignant diseases or conditions of the breast. The problem is that since IBC is rare, many doctors do not recognize its symptoms. Doctors may initially misdiagnose IBC as mastitis or a benign breast infection and prescribe a standard 7-10 days of treatment with antibiotics. If symptoms do not respond to treatment, then you should insist on a biopsy. In addition, because IBC often spreads more quickly than other forms of breast cancer (sometimes in a matter of weeks), it is important to get a diagnosis as soon as possible. Don't allow your physician to ignore your symptoms.

Unfortunately, some standard tests, such as mammograms, do not provide a definitive diagnosis on their own either. Tests such as a mammogram and breast ultrasound must be used in combination with a clinical exam and a core biopsy to rule out or confirm suspicion of inflammatory breast cancer.

After diagnosis, a number of options exist for treatment. Treatment usually consists of chemotherapy followed by a mastectomy and radiation of the chest wall. It is important to find a radiation oncologist familiar with IBC as effective treatment often takes different approaches than those required to treat other forms of breast cancer. For example, some IBC patients may receive radiation twice per day instead of once, as well as a different dose of chemotherapy than the norm.

Seeing your doctor as soon as possible if any of the symptoms appear and insisting on a second opinion if symptoms do not subside after a week or so of treatment will give you a better chance of receiving effective treatment. Women diagnosed with IBC at an early stage often have a better prognosis and possibly even a cure, according to the Greenebaum Cancer Center at the University of Maryland.

Clinical trials are available for people who have been diagnosed with IBC. To learn more visit the National Cancer Institute


References and Other Resources:

National Cancer Institute Fact Sheet: "Inflammatory Breast Cancer: Questions and Answers," National Cancer Institute

Inflammatory Breast Cancer Research Foundation:

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