Inflammatory Breast Cancer

A rare but aggressive form of cancer, inflammatory breast cancer blocks the lymph vessels in the skin of the breast. The condition often causes the breast to appear swollen, red and inflamed.

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Symptoms

Symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer usually develop quickly, often over a few weeks or months. There may be swelling, redness and warmth in the breast, although there may be no lump in the breast. The breast may appear bruised, reddish purple or even pink. The skin also may appear ridged or pitted, which is called peau d'orange, since it appears similar to the skin of an orange.

Patients with this type of cancer may experience heaviness, aching, burning, tenderness, an increase in breast size or a nipple that points inward. The lymph nodes under the arm, above the collar bone or in both locations, may also swell. Swollen lymph nodes, however, may also be symptoms of infection, injury or other conditions and not cancer.

 

Risk Factors

Between one and five percent of breast cancers in the United States are of the inflammatory type. The condition affects African-Americans more frequently and at a younger age than Caucasians. 

Inflammatory breast cancer can occur in men, but males usually contract it at a later age than women. There is some research showing a link between a family history of breast cancer and inflammatory breast cancer, but more study is required before this link is accepted as a risk factor.

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Diagnosis

A doctor will perform a physical examination, which is usually followed by a biopsy, or breast ultrasound to confirm the diagnosis. Given the rapid spread of inflammatory breast cancer, the breasts of patients with this type of cancer appear different from patients with other forms of cancer.

Inflammatory breast cancer is classified as either stage III, which means it is confined to the breast, or stage IV, which means the cancer has spread to other organs.

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Treatments

Specialists at Cedars-Sinai are experienced in the treatment of inflammatory breast cancer, including the use of chemotherapy, targeted therapy, surgery, radiation therapy and hormonal therapy. Chemotherapy is usually the first treatment for inflammatory breast cancer. Surgery and then radiation therapy is often required after chemotherapy to treat inflammatory breast cancer. Surgical removal of the breast (mastectomy) seeks to remove the tumor from the body, while radiation seeks to kill any cancer cells that have been left in the body. Usually during a mastectomy, the lymph nodes are removed from the underarm at the same time.

Cedars-Sinai also offers a range of supportive care to help patients deal with the side effects of cancer and its treatment, including psychological, spiritual and social support.

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