5 Things to Know About Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC)

Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) is a rare, rapidly growing cancer that must be treated right away. It mimics the symptoms of a breast infection. Redness, swelling, pain, enlargement of one breast, and breast skin that resembles an orange peel are all symptoms of IBC. Chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation are all options for treatment.

What is Inflammatory Breast Cancer?

Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) is a rare and rapidly spreading type of cancer. Unlike most breast cancers, IBC rarely causes lumps in the breast tissue. Instead, it manifests as a rash with an orange peel-like skin texture on the affected breast. IBC causes pain, redness, swelling, and dimpling on the affected breast.

IBC occurs when cancer cells obstruct lymph vessels, which are small, hollow tubes that allow lymph fluid to drain from the breast. The blockage causes inflammation, which causes symptoms that make IBC appear to be an infection.

IBC spreads quickly and necessitates immediate treatment. IBC is typically treated with chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation therapy.

Signs and Symptoms of Inflammatory Breast Cancer

Inflammatory breast cancer can be difficult to detect because it does not usually cause a lump like other types of breast cancer. Instead, the initial symptoms are associated with inflammation (redness, swelling, and pain) in your affected breast. Because of these symptoms, it is easy to mistake IBC for a less serious condition, such as an infection. Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) symptoms develop quickly over three to six weeks and may include the following:

  • Discoloration (red, pink, or purple), a bruise, or a rash covering one-third of your breast.
  • Dimpling, pitting, or thickening of your breast skin in the shape of an orange peel.
  • One breast has pain, swelling, itchiness, firmness, or tenderness.
  • One breast may experience warmth, burning, heaviness, or enlargement.
  • Nipple inverted or retracted (a nipple that points inward).
  • Lymph nodes near your collarbone or under your arm that are swollen.

Causes of Inflammatory Breast Cancer

The majority of inflammatory breast cancer is classified as invasive ductal carcinoma. “Ductal” carcinoma is cancer that develops from the cells that line your milk ducts. An “invasive” ductal carcinoma is cancer that has spread beyond your milk ducts and has infiltrated healthy tissue. Researchers are still determining what causes these cells to become cancerous (cancerous).

When cancer cells block lymph vessels, inflammatory breast cancer develops. Lymph vessels are hollow lymphatic tubes that allow lymph fluid to drain from your breast. Your breast becomes red, swollen, and inflamed as a result of the blockage. Cancer cells spread outward (metastasize) from your lymph vessels in the majority of cases of IBC. Cancer that has spread to other organs is more difficult to treat.

Diagnosis of Inflammatory Breast Disease

Inflammatory breast cancer is uncommon, and its symptoms are similar to those of a more common condition — breast infections (mastitis). To rule out an infection, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics and see if they relieve your symptoms. If they suspect IBC, they will perform a biopsy to confirm the diagnosis as well as additional tests to determine whether cancer has spread beyond your breast. A physical examination, imaging studies, and a biopsy are all used to make a diagnosis.

  • Lumps are uncommon in inflammatory breast cancer, making diagnosis difficult. In some cases, your doctor may rule out conditions that cause similar changes in the appearance of your breasts, such as mastitis.
  • A mammogram creates a picture of the inside of your breast using low-energy X-rays. Mammograms allow your doctor to look for signs of breast cancer, such as lumps, calcifications, or skin thickening. Using sound waves, breast ultrasounds create images of the inside of your breasts, nearby tissue, and lymph nodes. Ultrasounds allow your doctor to see if cancer has spread from your breast to nearby tissue. Unfortunately, IBC and breast infections frequently resemble each other.
  • Only a biopsy can confirm an IBC diagnosis. During a biopsy, your doctor takes a tissue sample from your breast, and a pathologist examines the sample in a lab to determine whether it contains cancer. Biopsy results also assist your provider in determining whether specific targeted therapies or drugs may be effective cancer treatments for you.

How to Cure or Treat Inflammatory Breast Cancer?

Chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation are used to treat inflammatory breast cancer.

1. Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells in the treatment of breast cancer. Chemotherapy can be administered intravenously (through a vein) or as a pill. Chemotherapy causes cancer cells to shrink, making them easier to remove during surgery. Following surgery, you may be given chemotherapy to destroy any cancer cells that remain.

2. Surgery

Your entire affected breast (mastectomy) and nearby lymph nodes are removed during surgery. Conservative treatments that remove tissue while leaving your breast intact are ineffective for IBC, and the cancer is spreading far too quickly.

3. Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy employs a machine to direct energy toward cancer, thereby killing cancer cells. Following surgery, you may be given radiation to kill any remaining cancer cells that the surgery missed.

4. Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy aids your immune system in identifying and combating cancer cells. Some types of immunotherapy, such as chemotherapy, have been shown in studies to improve the efficacy of other IBC treatments. The investigation is ongoing.

5. Targeted Therapy

Targeted therapy focuses on specific flaws in cancer cells. It attacks cancer’s weaknesses in order to eradicate them. For example, a protein called HER2 in cancer cells promotes the growth and spread of IBC. Targeted therapy destroys this protein, making cancer cells less likely to thrive.

The Final Words

Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) is a rare and rapidly spreading type of cancer. If you notice changes in your breasts, especially if one breast is changing but not the other, make an appointment with your healthcare provider right away. The changes could indicate a less serious condition, such as an infection. Nonetheless, IBC is rapidly spreading. If your symptoms are indicative of inflammatory breast cancer, you should begin treatment as soon as possible. Don’t put off seeking treatment that could improve your prognosis.