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Inflammatory Breast Cancer

Symptoms of Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC)

Inflammatory breast cancer does not necessarily have a defined lump. Typically, this type of breast cancer grows as nests or sheets within or around the breast area.  Often the symptoms for IBC are mistaken for a rash and/or infection of some sort and in some cases, it has been diagnosed as an abnormal cyst. Below is a list of the most common symptoms of IBC:


  • Swelling or enlargement of the breast (usually sudden)
  • Skin texture resembles an orange peel in the breast area called (peau d'orange) which means in French skin of an orange.
  • On light pigmentation you may find pink or reddish areas on the breast.
  • On darker pigmentation you may find reddish undertone areas on the breast.
  • Possible bruising appearance that doesn't go away.
  • Itching of the breast.
  • Extreme sensitivity of the breast.
  • Inverted or flattened nipple.
  • Irregular discharge from nipple.
  • Pain under the arm from swelling of the lymph nodes or around the neck.
  • Irregular warm feeling of breast (feverish).
  • Sharp and piercing irregular pains in the breast.
  • Although sometimes a lump can be felt, it is less common with IBC than with other forms of breast cancer.
  • IBC can appear over night, sometimes increasing 2-3 folds in size in a period of a few days.
  • Breast is harder or firmer than usual.

Please Note that IBC is very aggressive and these symptoms could occur very quickly.  If you notice any of these changes, see your health care provider immediately! 

Survival rates of IBC

Breast cancer prognosis has steadily improved over the years, IBC prognosis have not. It’s not uncommon for the cancer to return after treatment. In long term, probably no more than a fourth to a third of IBC patients are long-term survivors. Let me reintegrate that the survival rate for someone with IBC is quiet lower than that of a typical breast cancer patient.

According to data from the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) database, for women who were diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer between 1999 and 2008, the five-year relative survival rate was about 41.1% for white women and 20.7% for black women..  This compares with about 87% for all breast cancers combined.

With EARLY treatment, up to 50 percent of those with IBC will live for five years after diagnosis and about 35 percent will be cancer-free 10 years after diagnosis.  It is important to note these survival data are based on women treated five to 10 years ago. With current treatments, survival rates may be higher.

The key to survival is early and accurate diagnosis. Early dignosis and treatments improves long term survival.  Sad thing is, whereas breast cancer prognosis has steadily improved over the years, IBC has not.

Now, you may be asking yourself is Inflammatory breast cancer automatically a death sentence?  Absolutely not, there's always hope and advancement in the treatment of IBC.  There is still no known cure for Inflammatory breast cancer or what causes it. 

Breast self-examination must move far beyond merely looking for lumps, look for changes.  It doesn't cost a thing to stand in front of the mirror and check your breast for anything that's unusual, or different or strange or abnormal. We must recondition our mind and remember that we don't have to have a lump to have breast cancer. 

IBC is visible, it hurts, know the signs, the easiest thing to remember is, (If there are any changes to your breast, get it checked out immediately). No one knows your breast better than you.  While we are focusing on the breast that's red or swollen or aching, we must never forget about the other breast because the diagnosis of IBC involves multiple things.

Knowledge, education, and awareness saves lives and you do not have to be a health professional to save a life.  It is imperative that we know the signs, and it is unacceptable that women know nothing about IBC.  Be aware; when in doubt, rule it out.  Empower yourself with information and help spread the word, that there is a breast cancer that is aggressive and lethal if not caught early enough. 






Inflammatory Breast Cancer was first described by Scottish Surgeon Sir Charles Bell in 1814, recognizing the seriousness of a breast mass presented with pain and skin discoloration.  Below is a breif timeline of the medical evolutions of IBC.  

1887 Thomas Bryant observed dermal lymphatic invasion by carcinoma, suggesting the obstruction could explain the gross inflammatory appearance, and it is without a doubt the most acute and fatal form of cancer found in the breast for it spreads rapidly and kills quickly. (2) 
Archibald Leitch describes the cause of "peau d; orange" translation: skin of an orange.
Burton J. Lee and Norman E. Tannenbaum introduced the term "inflammatory breast cancer (IBC)" and considered it a distinct entity.  Inflammatory carcinoma of the female breast presents such unusual clinical manifestations that they are often misinterpreted by the physician who is first consulted. (4)
The first diagnostic criteria for IBC were published in 1956 by Haagensen and are still widely used.  A clinicopathological entity characterized by diffuse erythema and edema of the breast, often without an underlying palpable mass." (3)



So what exactly is Inflammatory Breast Cancer Inflammatory Breast Cancer?

Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) represents the most aggressive presentation of breast cancer. Women diagnosed with IBC typically have a poorer prognosis compared with those diagnosed with non-IBC tumors.  Often misdiagnosed with mastitis, misinterpreted and/or treated in incorrectly.  Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) is the most lethal form of primary breast cancer, often striking women in their prime and causing death within 18 to 24 months.(5, New york university, langone medical center)

Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) is rare, which is one of the reason so few have heard of it, and maybe why our timeline ends in the late fifties.  This type of breast cancer is called "inflammatory" because the breast often looks swollen and red, or "inflamed."   Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) accounts for 1 to 5 percent of all breast cancers cases in the United States. (7)  One of the most important factors to rememer with this disease is that it is important to distinguish IBC from other types of breast cancer because there are major difference in its sympotoms, prognosis (outlook) and treatment.  (8, American cancer society). 




Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) also tends to be more aggressive by definition, it is never found at an early stage. It is always at least stage IIIB (locally advanced) when it is first diagnosed because the breast cancer cells have grown into the skin. Often, though, it has already spread to distant parts of the body when it is diagnosed, making it stage IV (metastatic), and is more likely to come back after treatment than most common types of breast cancer. The

advanced stage of IBC, along with the tendency to grow and spread quickly, makes it

harder to treat successfully

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