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Symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer

Inflammatory Breast Cancer symptoms differ from those of more common breast cancers and can therefore be harder to diagnose and have shown to be more difficult to treat and is more likely to come back after treatment than most other types of breast cancer.
Family physicians must recognize warning signs and differentiate IBC from the more common benign disorders.  One of the main challenges of IBC is PROMPT recognition of IBC symptoms.  Due to IBC being an aggressive form of cancer, the disease can progress rapidly within days, weeks, or months. Because of this, there aren’t any early-stage symptoms. You might not develop a lump that's characteristic of other breast cancers, but you may have several of the following symptoms:


EARLY SIGNS:
•    Rapid, unusual increase in the size of one breast, stabbing pain, soreness, aching or heaviness of the breast.

      Persistent itching of breast or nipple
•    Rash, redness, blotchiness on one breast

      Feverish (increased warmth) on breast.
•    Nipple discharge or change in pigmented area around the nipple.

      Flattening or retracting of nipple
•    A hardened area in the breast similar to the lead of a pencil (NOT A LUMP)


Sudden change in breast size
Inflammatory breast cancer changes the appearance of the breasts, and this change can occur suddenly. Because this cancer causes inflammation and swelling, it is common to have breast enlargement or thickness. The affected breast may appear noticeably larger than the other breast or feel heavy and hard. Some women with IBC also experience breast shrinkage, where their breast decreases in size.​
It can be difficult to notice subtle changes in your breast. If you've always had symmetrical breasts and you notice a sudden increase or decrease in the size of one breast, speak with your doctor to rule out inflammatory breast cancer.


Skin Rash
Women with Inflammatory breast cancer can develop a red, pink, or purple rash across part of their breast.  The red rash may not be noticeable to the darker pigmentation.  If you have symptoms like these, have them checked out be a doctor right away.  Inflammatory breast cancer can spread quickly.


Breast Discoloration
Another early sign of inflammatory breast cancer is discoloration of the breast. Your entire breast

or on light pigmentation you may find pink or reddish purple on more than 1/3rd of the breast and on

darker pigmentation you may find reddish undertones on more than 1/3rd of the breast.

The discoloration can look like a big bruise, so you might shrug it off as nothing serious.

However breast redness is a classic symptom of inflammatory breast cancer.

Don’t ignore unexplained bruising on your breast.


Skin Changes – NOT LUMPS

Inflammatory breast cancer cells crowd into lymph vessels.  Lymph vessels are small channels that hold a liquid (lymph) that helps the body fight infections and filter out harmful substances.  When cancer cells block the lymph nodes, they make the breast change color or texture.


Skin Dimpling

Another sign of inflammatory breast cancer is skin dimpling or pitted skin around the breast.  Dimpling can make the skin resemble the skin of an orange peel, this can develop over the whole breast or in a small area of the breast,


Breast pain
In cases where breast cancer causes a lump, the tumor may not create pain or discomfort but because there is no pain, most women don't suspect cancer until their doctor feels a lump during a physical examination, or until they discover one during a self-examination.  The situation is very different with inflammatory breast cancer.​

Due to the inflammatory nature of this particular cancer, your breast will look and feel different. For example, inflammation can cause your breast to feel warm to the touch. You may also have breast tenderness and pain. Lying on your stomach can be uncomfortable, and depending on the severity of tenderness, wearing a bra can be painful. In addition to pain and tenderness, IBC can cause persistent itching around the breast


PEAU d’ ORANGE
Another sign of inflammatory breast cancer is skin dimpling or pitted skin around the breast.  The skin of the breast may take on a different texture.  It often looks like the peel of an orange.  Sometimes this is called peau d’ orange, which means “orange skin” in French. The dimpled appearance is created when cancer cells block the lymph  vessels under the skin,

forming tiny bumps and ridges.   


Change in nipple appearance
A change in the shape of the nipple is another possible early sign of inflammatory breast cancer. Your nipple may become flat or retract inside the breast. A pinch test can help determine if your nipples are flat or inverted. Place your thumb and index finger around your areola and gently squeeze. A normal nipple moves forward after pinching whereas a flat nipple doesn't move forward or backward. A pinch causes an inverted nipple to retract into the breast.
Having flat or inverted nipples doesn’t necessarily mean you have inflammatory breast cancer. These types of nipples are normal for some women and are no cause for concern. On the other hand, if your nipples “suddenly” change and become flat or inverted, speak with the doctor.


Enlarged lymph nodes
IBC can cause enlarged lymph nodes. If you suspect the disease, check the lymph nodes under your arm and above your collarbone for signs of swelling.

Back to What is IBC                                       Move on to IBC vs. Breast Infection 

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