Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) is an aggressive form of breast cancer. It is different because it grows in more of a sheet-like shape and brings changes to the skin in response to inflammation. Inflammation occurs when the body is fighting infection, injury, or irritation. The changes in the skin appear similar to other conditions like mastitis. Early diagnosis and treatment are important with IBC. The sooner it is found, the more favorable the outcome.
IBC is rare in women and extremely rare in men.
Cancer occurs when cells in the body divide without control or order. Eventually these uncontrolled cells form a growth or tumor. The term cancer refers to malignant growths. These growths invade nearby tissues and spread to other parts of the body. It is not clear exactly what causes these problems in the cells, but is probably a combination of genetics and environment.
The average age for women with IBC (59 years old) is lower than that of women with other breast cancers. Other factors that may increase your chances of IBC:
Note: Studies show that most women with known risk factors do not get breast cancer. Many women who get breast cancer have none of the risk factors listed above.
Normally, breast cancer cells create a tumor. IBC cells develop in a sheet-like pattern so you may not feel any lumps or masses. Symptoms of IBC can occur together and develop quickly. IBC may cause:
Some of these symptoms are similar to a condition known as mastitis. However, mastitis should respond to treatment. If it does not, talk to your doctor again right away.
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will also be done. Since IBC develops in a sheet-like pattern, it is hard to find by a breast exam or mammogram.
Test may include:
If cancer is detected, the cancerous tissue will also be tested to look for:
The physical exam combined with all of your test results, will help to determine the stage of cancer you have. Staging is used to guide your treatment plan. IBC is generally detected in later stages, which gives cancer cells more time to invade other tissues.
Talk with your doctor about the best plan for you. Finding cancer in later stages reduces the chances of a favorable outcome. Better outcomes are achieved with a combination of therapies.
Treatment may include one or more of the following:
Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. It may be given in many forms including pill, injection, and or through an IV. The drugs travel through the body in the blood, killing mostly cancer cells. Some healthy cells are killed as well. Chemotherapy drugs for IBC may include:
The only surgery recommended for IBC is a modified radical mastectomy. This involves removal of the whole breast, lymph nodes under the arm, and the lining over the chest muscles under the breast.
Radiation therapy is the use of radiation to kill cancer cells. It may be necessary in cases when chemotherapy prior to surgery isn't effective. Radiation may be used to shrink cancer cells in advance of surgery. Types of radiation therapy include:
There are other factors about your specific type of cancer that can affect treatment such as:
It is important to catch IBC as early as possible. If you have any of the symptoms listed above, see your doctor right away. If you are being treated for mastitis that is not responding to treatment, see your doctor again.
Breast exams may help identify changes in your breast, such as the orange-peel skin. For breast exams, the American Cancer Society recommends:
Canadian Breast Cancer Network
Canadian Cancer Society
Breast cancer in women. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T113654/Breast-cancer-in-women. Updated January 23, 2018. Accessed January 29, 2018.
Dawood S, Merajver SD, Viens P, et al. International expert panel on inflammatory breast cancer: consensus statement for standardized diagnosis and treatment. Ann Oncol. 2011;22(3):515-523.
Inflammatory breast cancer. National Breast Cancer Foundation website. http://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/inflammatory-breast-cancer. Accessed January 29, 2018.
Inflammatory breast cancer. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/breast/ibc-fact-sheet. Updated January 6, 2016. Accessed January 29, 2017.
Treatment of inflammatory breast cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer/treatment/treatment-of-breast-cancer-by-stage/treatment-of-inflammatory-breast-cancer.html. Updated August 18, 2016. Accessed January 29, 2018.
Last reviewed December 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.