Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) is a rare, but aggressive form of locally advanced breast cancer.
It’s called inflammatory breast cancer because its main symptoms are swelling and redness (the breast often looks inflamed).
Most IBC are invasive ductal carcinomas (begin in the milk ducts) .
About 1-5 percent of breast cancers in the U.S. are IBC [15-16].
Warning signs include (see images) [15-16]:
Although sometimes a lump can be felt, it’s less common with IBC than with other breast cancers.
Symptoms of IBC tend to arise within weeks or months. With other breast cancers, symptoms may not occur for years.
If you notice any of these changes, see a health care provider right away.
Routine mammography can miss IBC because of its rapid onset.
IBC can also be hard to see on a mammogram. It’s often spread throughout the breast or it may only show up as a sign of inflammation (such as skin thickening) .
In some cases, skin changes (listed above) or a lump (if one is present) may be noted during a clinical breast exam.
However, because of the frequent lack of a breast lump and symptoms such as redness and swelling, IBC may first be mistaken for an infection.
Although IBC may be diagnosed based on clinical appearance, a biopsy is needed to confirm the diagnosis of invasive breast cancer. The biopsy also gives information on the tumor, such as hormone receptor status and HER2 status. These factors help guide treatment.
Tell your health care provider if you have symptoms that last longer than a week. Don’t be afraid to get a second opinion.
About 30 percent of women with IBC have metastasis when they are diagnosed .
This means the cancer has spread beyond the breast to other organs in the body such as the bones, lungs, liver or brain.
For this reason, when IBC is diagnosed, tests for metastatic breast cancer are done.
Learn about tests for metastatic breast cancer.
Learn about treatment for metastatic breast cancer.
IBC is treated with a combination of surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy, and may include hormone therapy and/or targeted therapy.
The first treatment is neoadjuvant (before surgery) chemotherapy. This helps shrink the tumor(s) in the breast and lymph nodes so that surgery can better remove all of the cancer.
Learn more about treatment for non-metastatic IBC.
Research is ongoing to improve treatment for IBC.
We encourage you to talk with your health care provider about whether there is a clinical trial you can join.
BreastCancerTrials.org in collaboration with Susan G. Komen® offers a custom matching service to help you find clinical trials on inflammatory breast cancer.
Learn more about clinical trials.
With treatment, up to 65 percent of women with IBC will live at least 5 years after diagnosis and about 35 percent will have no signs of breast cancer 10 years after diagnosis [17-22].
Although these rates are not as high as for other breast cancers, modern treatments are improving survival.
One study found 82 percent of women diagnosed after 2006 lived for at least 3 years after diagnosis compared to 63 percent of women diagnosed before 2006 .
Prognosis, however, depends on each person’s diagnosis and treatment.
Learn about treatment for non-metastatic IBC.
For a summary of research studies on survival in women with inflammatory breast cancer, visit the Breast Cancer Research Studies section.
Compared to non-IBC tumors, IBC tumors are more likely to be :
Hormone receptor-negative breast cancers cannot be treated with hormone therapy. So, women with hormone receptor-negative IBC tend to have poorer survival than women with hormone receptor-positive IBC .
In contrast, women with HER2-positive IBC tend to have better survival than women with HER2-negative IBC . HER2-positive breast cancers can be treated with the targeted therapy drug trastuzumab (Herceptin).
Most women with IBC have breast cancer in the lymph nodes in the underarm area (lymph node-positive) when they are diagnosed .
Lymph node-positive breast cancers tend to have poorer survival than lymph node-negative cancers (when the lymph nodes do not contain cancer).
The more lymph nodes that contain cancer, the poorer the prognosis tends to be .
Learn more about factors that affect prognosis.
The median age at diagnosis of IBC is slightly younger than the age at diagnosis of other breast cancers [15-16].
African-American women are somewhat more likely than white women to be diagnosed with IBC [15-16].
Women who are obese are more likely than other women to be diagnosed with IBC [15-16,24].
Although some viral e-mails suggest IBC is a new form of breast cancer, it was first identified in the 1800’s .
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