Inflammatory Breast Cancer

Inflammatory breast cancer is rare, and is characterized by cancer cells that block lymph vessels in the skin of the breast. Common symptoms include pink or purple skin that is swollen and warm to the touch. The skin may also appear pitted. Treatment usually consists of chemotherapy and surgery.

What Is Inflammatory Breast Cancer?

Inflammatory breast cancer is an uncommon type of breast cancer in which breast cancer cells block the lymph vessels in the skin of the breast.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms?

The blockage of lymph vessels in inflammatory breast cancer may cause the breast to become red, swollen, and warm. The skin of the breast may also appear pink, purple, or bruised, and it may have ridges or appear pitted, like the skin of an orange (called peau d'orange). These changes often occur quickly over a period of weeks.
Another possible sign of inflammatory breast cancer is swollen lymph nodes under the arm, above the collarbone, or in both places. Often, a tumor cannot be felt, and may not be seen on a mammogram.

Diagnosing Inflammatory Breast Cancer

The diagnosis of inflammatory breast cancer is based on the results of the biopsy and the doctor's clinical judgment.

How Is It Treated?

Inflammatory breast cancer generally grows rapidly, and the cancer cells often spread to other parts of the body. Therefore, a woman with inflammatory breast cancer usually has local treatment to remove or destroy the cancer in the breast and systemic treatment to control or kill cancer cells that may have spread to other parts of the body.
Local treatment for inflammatory breast cancer affects only cells in the tumor and the area close to it; systemic treatment affects cells throughout the body.
The local treatment for inflammatory breast cancer may involve surgery and/or radiation therapy to the breast and underarm area.
The systemic treatment for inflammatory breast cancer may be chemotherapy (anticancer drugs), hormonal therapy (drugs that interfere with the effects of the female hormone estrogen), or both. Systemic treatment for inflammatory breast cancer is generally given before surgery and/or radiation therapy.
In some cases of inflammatory breast cancer, local treatment may be followed by additional systemic treatment with hormonal therapy, chemotherapy, or both. Some women with inflammatory breast cancer also may have biological therapy (which stimulates the immune system to fight the cancer).
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