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Inflammatory Breast Cancer

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Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) is an uncommon, highly aggressive form of breast cancer in which cancerous cells obstruct the lymph vessels in the breast. The disease is named because of its primary symptoms of redness and swelling. IBC spreads throughout the breast, but it is not commonly detected by mammograms or ultrasounds because the disease often does not produce a well-defined lump.

Among breast cancer patients in the United States, IBC comprises approximately 1 to 5 percent of those cases. Early detection and quick treatment are important, as IBC can spread rapidly to other locations in the body.


The following may be symptoms of IBC, but could be linked to other health conditions. If these symptoms are present, patients are encouraged to consult their physician for proper testing:

  • Sudden increase in the size of one breast
  • Breast becomes swollen, irritated, or warm to the touch
  • Recurring itching, burning, or other pain in the breast
  • Dimpled skin, like an orange peel
  • Change in texture of the skin on the breast
  • Nipple discharge, flattening, or inversion
  • Change in color of the skin near the nipple (areola)
  • Swelling of lymph nodes on the underarm or neck
  • A persistent bruise or reddish pink coloration on the breast

Risk Factors 

  • IBC tends to have a higher incidence in younger women.
  • African American women have a slightly higher risk of the disease.
  • Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding may be diagnosed with IBC.
  • Men can be diagnosed with IBC.

Treatment Options 

BC patients should consult with a medical oncologist to determine their specific treatment needs. A common treatment regimen usually begins with chemotherapy, taken by mouth as pills or administered into a vein through a needle. In aggressive cases of IBC, treatment may then proceed with regional treatments – surgery and/or radiation – which target only the affected area. Physicians may recommend surgery for IBC patients whose cancer is contained enough to be removed completely, and radiation is used in an attempt to destroy any remaining cancer cells.

Though the long-term survival rate for IBC is lower than that of other breast cancer cases, innovations in cancer treatment and new research developments have improved the survival outlook for IBC patients to 34 percent after five years. Since IBC symptoms may be mistaken for other non-cancerous conditions, such as a breast infection, patients with concerns about their diagnosis and treatment should request a biopsy to detect cancer cells.

Sources: American Cancer Society, National Cancer Institute, and Susan G. Komen for the Cure®