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Inflammatory Breast Cancer in Women - Symptoms, Diagnosis, Risk Factors and Treatment

Updated on August 28, 2013

This hub about Inflammatory Breast Cancer is written to support the Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign this month of October. You can watch the embedded video below for a more visual understanding of inflammatory breast cancer or read the written information.

Before reading the rest of this hub, do you know what is Inflammatory Breast Cancer of IBC?

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What is inflammatory breast cancer or IBC?

Inflammatory breast cancer or IBC is a type of cancer that is quite rare where only 1-5% of all breast cancer incidents in the U.S. is due to IBC. However, it is very aggressive. Compared to non-inflammatory breast cancer cases, it has less likelihood of being detected early. This is because it does not present any distinct breast lump and it is commonly misdiagnosed as insect bite infection. By the time it is diagnosed as cancer, it has already metastasized or has already spread to other parts of the body.

What Does Inflammatory Breast Cancer Look Like?

In this type of cancer, a cancer cell starts in one of the breast's ducts. As it grows and accumulates, it penetrates and clogs the lymphatic vessels in the skin of the breast. This blockage in the lymphatic vessels results in a warm breast that looks pink or reddish purple, swollen and dimpled, thus the name "inflammatory" breast cancer. Aside from this, other symptoms of IBC may include

  • sensations of heaviness, burning, aching, or tenderness
  • increase in breast size,
  • a nipple that is inverted (facing inward)
  • swollen lymph nodes under the arm, above the collarbone, or in both places

These symptoms usually develop rapidly in a few weeks or months time. However, these symptoms may also be signs of other health problems like infection, injury, or other types of cancer

For sample photos, please go to this IBC support page.

How Do You Know You Have IBC?

A patient who may have the symptoms above should immediately consult with a doctor. The diagnosis of IBC is grounded chiefly on the results of a doctor's clinical exam. Clinical procedures such as biopsy, mammogram, and breast ultrasound are utilized to confirm the diagnosis.

Because Inflammatory breast cancer is especially aggressive, it tends to develop quickly. A diagnosed IBC is usually immediately classified as either stage IIIB (locally advanced) or stage IV (has metastasized) breast cancer. Take note that the appearance of the breast of an IBC patient is way different from non-IBC patients who both have stage III breast cancers.

This video was aired in 2006 and it showed that most IBC patients did not know they have Inflammatory Breast Cancer.

Who are at Risk of Inflammatory Breast Cancer?

Here are the known risk factors of Inflammatory Breast Cancer

  • More women are likely to be diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer though men can also develop this cancer.
  • Black women are at a greater risk of contacting inflammatory breast cancer than white women.
  • As women grow older, the risk of developing inflammatory breast cancer is higher. Most IBC patients were diagnosed in their 50s which is several years younger than for non-IBC breast cancer.

How is IBC treated?

Treatment of IBC, as with other types of cancer, include chemotherapy, targeted therapy, surgery, radiation, and hormonal therapy. Chemotherapy is typically the first option for treating patients with IBC. It uses anti-cancer drugs administered systemically, and targets all cancer cells throughout the body.

After chemotherapy, the patient may undergo mastectomy, a surgery that takes away the breast or much of the breast tissue in the effort to remove the cancer cells as well. After mastectomy, radiation on the chest wall is administered to kill remaining cancer cells.

After the three-step treatments, an additional systemic treatment like chemotherapy, hormonal therapy or targeted therapy (an example is the use of Herceptin®) is done to reduce the risk of recurrence of the cancer.

It is not a joke for patients to undergo all of these medical treatments. It is not only costly but it is also taxing especially in the management of the side effects of the cancer and its treatment. Being able to give supportive care psychologically, socially and spiritually to cancer patients is greatly needed and appreciated.

I hope this information was helpful and that you would help spread the awareness about Inflammatory Breast Cancer.


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    • Kamran100 profile image

      Kamran100 7 years ago

      really informative..its sacred cancer...GOD BLESS EVERYONE!

    • Chin chin profile image

      Chin chin 7 years ago from Philippines

      heart4theword, I see that Thermology is a diagnostic test that takes highly detailed and sensitive infrared images of the human body. I've read that thermology or thermography catches breast cancer sooner than it can be felt by palpation. You are right that it would prove useful in detecting IBC earlier.

    • Chin chin profile image

      Chin chin 7 years ago from Philippines

      heart4theword, I don't know about "Thermology" but I'll look it up.

    • Chin chin profile image

      Chin chin 7 years ago from Philippines

      Thanks, ladyt11 for reading and for sharing this with your sisters, friends and cousins. God bless you, too.

    • heart4theword profile image

      heart4theword 7 years ago from hub

      Do you know if "Thermology" works to detect this early? I hope I spelt that right:) Informative hub, thank you!

    • ladyt11 profile image

      ladyt11 7 years ago

      This hub is very useful. I had heard about this type of cancer but did not know much about it. I feel like I have been very well educated on this issue after reading your hub. I am also telling my sisters, friends and cousins! Thank you for having such concern in your heart for others that you would share this vital information. God bless and keep you and yours Chin chin and once again thank you!

    • Chin chin profile image

      Chin chin 7 years ago from Philippines

      Bayoulady, thanks for reading. I do hope more readers will know about IBC.

    • Chin chin profile image

      Chin chin 7 years ago from Philippines

      DavePrice, thank you for reading this hub. I'm sorry to hear about what happened to your wife. I hope that many will be aware of IBC to help other women battle this type of cancer.

    • bayoulady profile image

      bayoulady 7 years ago from Northern Louisiana,USA

      Very well done and timely Chin chin! I hope readers will find this !

    • DavePrice profile image

      DavePrice 7 years ago from Sugar Grove, Ill

      Thank you for a wonderful hub on a subject that is close to my heart - my first wife suffered from this condition and eventually succumbed to the disease. Every ounce of information that reaches people is of the greatest importance.