Womens Cancer Center at Fox Chase

Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC)

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IBC rarely causes a breast lump, and it may not show up on a mammogram. Because it doesn't look like a typical breast cancer, it can be harder to diagnose.

Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC) is the most aggressive of breast cancers.
There is rarely a lump and it usually cannot be detected by mammography.  

Frequently misdiagnosed as an infection, predominately because of the lack of a lump, precious time may be wasted in correctly diagnosing IBC.

Diagnosing Inflammatory Breast Cancer can be difficult since the cancer is not apparent on ultrasounds, and Mammograms are often painful and difficult for patients with a tender and swollen breast.  Diagnostic methods include Breast Sonogram, Breast MRI, PET Scans and Biopsy. MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) is the most sensitive imaging test for IBC. It can find any breast mass that looks like it could be invasive cancer. More importantly, MRI allows the skin changes that are typical of IBC to be measured precisely.

IBC is not a new type of breast cancer, but it is very important to distinguish IBC from other types of breast cancer because there are major differences in its symptoms, prognosis, and treatment.

Symptoms

Diagnosing inflammatory breast cancer at an early stage can possibly save your life.

IBC can present in a number of ways, and each patient's symptoms are unique, but a common feature is that those symptoms typically progress very rapidly, often within a matter of weeks. Inflammatory breast cancer symptoms may include all or a combination of the following signs and symptoms:

  • Inflammatory breast cancer illustration courtesy NCI

    Inflammatory breast cancer of the left breast showing peau d'orange and inverted nipple.

    NCI PDQ
    See National Cancer Institute information on
    Inflammatory Breast Cancer

    Breast swelling, which appears suddenly with one breast much larger than the other
  • Itching
  • Pink, red, or dark colored area, sometimes with a dimpling of the breast skin that looks like an orange peel (peau d'orange)
  • Ridges and thickened areas of the skin
  • Breast that feels warm to the touch
  • Flattened or retracted nipple
  • Breast pain

You do not need to have all of these symptoms to be concerned about inflammatory breast cancer. Since inflammatory breast cancer symptoms are very similar to those of an infection (mastitis), your doctor may prescribe a round of antibiotics. After one course of antibiotics, if your condition has not changed, it is strongly recommended that you seek an opinion from an IBC specialist and request a biopsy be performed to rule out IBC. 

Specialized treatment

Resources for patients
and caregivers:

IBC Support
Inflammatory Breast Cancer Help and Support
ibcsupport.org

Inflammatory Breast Cancer Foundation
eraseibc.com

 

Through the Fox Chase Womens Cancer Center's collaboration with the global IBC community of doctors and researchers, more and more women who get the proper diagnosis immediately are living longer and better than in the past. 

A coordinated team of cancer care specialists work together to follow IBC patients through examination, care, and any continued monitoring. This team approach follows the "strong together" philosophy in pursuit of the best possible care for patients.