Health Feature Articles
What you need to know about Inflammatory Breast Cancer
Gail Carlson, MPH Ph.D., State Health Education Specialist, University of Missouri Extension
A friend recently told me about Inflammatory
Breast Cancer. It sounded terrible, is it something I
should be concerned about?
Breast cancer of any kind should be of concern to
women. It is the most common form of cancer in women
followed by lung cancer. However, the chances of any one
women having Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC) are
slight. IBC is not common. Let’s look at a few numbers.
There are about 2,268,000 women age 18 and older in
Missouri. The American Cancer Society estimates that
there will be 3,730 new cases of breast cancer among
Missouri women in 2007. IBC accounts for 1% to 5% of all
breast cancers. In other words about 40 to 200 women in
Missouri could develop IBC each year. Remember, men can
also develop breast cancer. However, IBC in men is rare.
Your friend may have seen a recent television program
or received a copy of a chain e-mail that has been
circulating among women. Both are well-meaning efforts
to raise awareness about IBC. However, it led some women
to believe that IBC was a new condition or that the
number of cases had increased dramatically. In fact, IBC
is not new condition. The American Cancer Society has
been providing information about IBC since 1996. The
National Cancer Institute also provides information and
keeps track of the number of reported IBC cases. It is
true that the number of reported cases of IBC did
increase throughout the 1990s. However, the increases
were not dramatic and it is too early to tell why the
rates are increasing. The increase could be the result
of increased awareness and reporting or it could be due
to the fact that more women are being exposed to
suspected risk factors. All of this continues to be
Following are some things you should know about IBC.
- IBC is not caused by an infection; it is not contagious. It occurs when the lymph vessels in the breast become blocked by breast cancer cells. This blockage may cause the breast to become red, swollen, and warm.
- Other symptoms may include:
Pain in the breast.
Skin changes in the breast area – skin may develop pink, red or purple areas; it may appear ridged, pitted and thick like the skin of an orange.
A bruise on the breast that doesn't go away
Sudden swelling of the breast
Itching of the breast
Nipple discharge or retraction (the nipple turns inward)
Swollen lymph nodes under the arm, above the collarbone or in both places.
- IBC can be difficult to detect. There is no lump or tumor as there is with other more common forms of breast cancer. IBC may not show up on a mammogram. The disease grows in nests or sheets that clog the lymph system under the skin. Often inflammatory breast cancer is mistaken for other breast conditions or a breast infection and treated with antibiotics. If the redness and swelling does not clear up after a week on antibiotics request a breast biopsy or referral to a breast specialist. IBC is diagnosed based on the results of a biopsy and the judgment of the health care provider.
- IBC is an aggressive form of cancer. It
strikes women at an earlier age than other forms of
breast cancer. African-American women are also at
greater risk. The cancer can spread quickly over a
matter of weeks. Treatment usually begins within
days of diagnosis. IBC like other forms of breast
cancer are usually treated with multiple approaches
including radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery. IBC
is considered an advanced form of cancer.
Nevertheless, progress is being made in treatment
and survival rates are improving.
The American Cancer Society urges women to know how
their breasts normally feel so they can easily detect
any change. If any change occurs, see a health care
provider as soon as possible and request immediate
follow-up if symptoms do not improve after initial
More information about breast cancer and IBC is
available from the American Cancer Society and the
National Cancer Institute
For more information about breast and cervical cancer
check out Team Up Missouri's webpage at:
This information is being provided for educational
purposes. Your health provider can make recommendations
specific to your situation, follow his or her advice.
1) National Comprehensive Cancer Network (2005) Types of Breast Cancer http://www.nccn.org/
2) American Cancer Society (2006) Estimated New Cancer Cases for Selected Cancer Sites by State, US, 2006
3) American Cancer Society (2005) Detailed Guide: Breast Cancer http://www.cancer.org/docroot/CRI/CRI_2_3x.asp?dt=5
Last Updated 05/05/2009