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​Inflammatory Breast Cancer

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What is Inflammatory Breast Cancer?

Inflammatory breast cancer blocks the lymph vessels in the breast, causing inflammation.

Instead of a lump, most people notice reddening and swelling of the breast that seems to intensify quickly.

It's often mistaken for mastitis — an infection that can accompany breastfeeding, or cellulitis — a bacterial infection.

» See more symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer.

Inflammatory breast cancer is a rare, but aggressive type of breast cancer. It accounts for only about one to five percent of breast cancer cases in women and almost none in men.

Who's at Risk for Inflammatory Breast Cancer?

Anybody can develop inflammatory breast cancer, but certain factors may increase your risk, including:

  • If you are between the age of 50 and 60
  • A family history of breast cancer

Learn more about the High-Risk Breast Cancer Program at Magee.

Symptoms of Inflammatory Breast Cancer

Talk to your doctor if you notice any of the following symptoms:

  • Aching or tenderness of the breast
  • A change in the size or shape of the breast
  • A dimpled, puckered, or "orange-peel" appearance in the skin
  • A nipple that turns inward
  • Red or inflamed skin on the breast, nipple, or areola (the dark circle of skin around the nipple)
  • Swollen lymph nodes under the arm
  • Swollen or thickened skin on the breast
  • Warm skin on the breast

Mastitis and cellulitis usually cause fevers, but fever is not a symptom of inflammatory breast cancer. If you're being treated for mastitis or cellulitis — and the treatment isn't working — ask your doctor about inflammatory breast cancer.

Testing for and Diagnosing Inflammatory Breast Cancer

Experts at the Magee-Womens Breast Cancer Program use a variety of tests and procedures to diagnose and screen for breast cancer, including:

Test Description

Ultrasound (sonography)

  • A noninvasive test using high-frequency sound waves to produce real-time pictures of tumors.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

  • An imaging technique using a computer, a magnetic field, and radio waves to produce images of the body's soft tissues.

Mammogram with computer-aided detection (CAD)

  • An imaging procedure of the breast using low-energy x-rays to screen for or detect breast cancer and other abnormalities.
  • A digital mammogram uses a phosphor plate, rather than film, to view mammography images.
  • CAD is software that highlights tissue abnormalities in a mammogram.

3D mammogram (tomosynthesis)

  • An imaging tool using low-energy x-rays to create a 3D image of the breasts.

Minimally invasive breast biopsy

  • The use of a needle to extract a tissue sample from the breast to test for cancer cells.

Treating Inflammatory Breast Cancer

If you're diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer, treatment will depend on your general health and the results of your tests.

Your doctors and other specialists at the Magee-Womens Breast Cancer Program will work with you to consider your options and determine a course of action.

Treatment Options for Inflammatory Breast Cancer

Surgery is often the primary treatment for breast cancer.

In many cases, we may also recommend additional therapies before (neo adjuvant) or after (adjuvant) surgery to control an aggressive cancer or to reduce the risk of recurrence.

Procedures and treatments for breast cancer may include:

Surgical Procedures
The surgical removal of part of the breast with a cancerous tumor (lumpectomy), breast tissue, or the entire breast. In some cases, lymph nodes are also removed. In rare cases, some of the chest muscles are removed as well.
Sentinel lymph node biopsy
A minimally invasive procedure to remove lymph node tissue in the armpit to check if existing breast cancer is spreading (metastasizing). Women diagnosed with an invasive breast cancer typically undergo a sentinel lymph node biopsy.
Axillary lymph node dissection
Surgery to remove all or a group of lymph nodes in the underarm (axilla), if your sentinel lymph node biopsy is positive for cancer.
Additional Breast Cancer Therapies
The administration of drugs to destroy the growth abilities of cancer cells. It is sometimes used with radiation therapy.
Radiation therapy
The use of beams of high-energy waves of ion particles to destroy the growth abilities of cancer cells. External radiation therapy directs rays at the tumor from outside a person's body.
Hormone therapy
The use of drugs that stop the production of certain hormones that the cancer needs to grow.