Breast Cancer Diagnosis: Inflammatory Breast Cancer (Ibc)

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Inflammatory breast cancer, or IBC, is an accelerated type of breast cancer, which usually cannot be detected by ultrasound or mammogram. It is a relatively rare form of cancer, which accounts for about 1 to 3 percent of all cancers of the breast. One of the signs of this type of breast cancer is that the affected breast becomes inflamed and swollen. This occurs because the lymphatic cells that exist under the breast’s skin get blocked by the cancer cells. This results in the lymph flow blockage, which leads to the inflamed redness, also known as mastitis, which characterizes IBC.

What Symptoms does Inflammatory Breast Cancer have?

Unlike the other types of breast cancer that are more common, a lump generally does not occur in IBC, and if it does it usually cannot be felt. The disease develops as sheets or nests, which clog up the lymphatic system underneath the skin. Usually, IBC diagnosis takes a long time because the symptoms are often attributed to other diseases, such as an infection.

The Symptoms of Inflammatory Breast Cancer are:

  • Breast pain. Since IBC is often mistaken for an infection of the breast, it is treated with antibiotics. Hence, if the inflammation does not subside after a week, you need to either get a referral to a breast cancer specialist or ask for a breast biopsy.

  • Breast becoming red. Inflammatory breast cancer’s most distinctive characteristic is the redness, which can involve either the whole or part of the breast. Sometimes the redness may come and go.

  • Warmth of the breast. The redness may also be accompanied by the area becoming warm.

  • Changes of skin in the breast area. The redness on the breast, often is also accompanied by the skin getting the thickness and texture of an orange peel, also referred to as peau d’orange.

  • A bruise forming on the breast that does not go away.

  • Retraction of the nipple or discharge from it.

  • Itching sensation of the breast.

  • The breast suddenly swelling up.

  • The lymph nodes in the neck or under the arm swelling up.

  • Around 50 percent of women afflicted with IBC also have a mass or a lump in their breast, but it usually cannot be detected during breast examination because the breast often becomes harder and larger than normal.

These symptoms usually occur very quickly, within a period of mere weeks.

Inflammatory Breast Cancer Diagnosis

As has been explained, the nature of the symptoms of IBC makes it very hard to diagnose accurately. Because of the rarity of the disease, many medical practitioners generally do not come across it. Besides, compared to other forms of breast cancer, inflammatory breast cancer has not been studied quite as much. Usually, when the breast gets swollen or red, an infection is commonly the cause, hence doctors diagnose it as such at first. However, infections usually have a cause, for example breast-feeding, and they subside with adequate antibiotic treatment, however, IBC, is not responsive to antibiotics. 

Inflammatory breast cancer is diagnosed primarily by conducting a physical examination, although ultrasound, breast MRI, or mammogram may also be used sometimes. A biopsy is usually used to confirm the diagnosis. However, there are cases when a biopsy of IBC comes back clear, although the swelling and the redness worsen. Hence, as is evident, it can be very tricky to get a confirmed and accurate diagnosis.

Chemotherapy is used as an upfront treatment of inflammatory breast cancer. This can be followed by radiation and surgery. Herceptin and anti-estrogen therapy may also be used. Some other types of targeted therapy, like Avastin, may also have a role. The sequence and kind of treatment will be dependent on each individual case.

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