Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) is a unique form of cancer which tends to be more aggressive than other forms of breast cancer. Understanding the symptoms can lead to prompt treatment and a better prognosis.
With other forms of breast cancer, the first indication something is wrong may be when a woman feels a lump in her breast or there is a suspicious area on a mammogram. Unfortunately, IBC has a different presentation. The breasts can appear inflamed and the redness often progresses rapidly, so rapidly, that IBC is often late-stage when it is diagnosed. Routine breast self-examinations and being mindful of any changes in your breasts is the best way to identify problems in the early stages. When you have any concerns, they need to be evaluated by your doctor so they can order additional tests.
Your doctor will likely order a mammogram as part of diagnostic testing. Since IBC may not present with a noticeable mass, imaging tests may not be especially helpful. A biopsy will be the most critical part in diagnosing all forms of breast cancer, especially IBC. During the biopsy, the area will be anesthetized so a tissue sample can be removed. Typically, it is not necessary to have general anesthesia, but this may be an option if a surgeon must take a sample deeper within the breast. A biopsy can help doctor determine if the inflammatory changes in your breasts are just a natural inflammatory response, such as one caused by a cyst or infection, or indicative of IBC. If IBC is diagnosed, additional testing may be necessary for staging, such as a lymph node biopsy.
Just as IBC is unique in its presentation, the treatment approaches may be unique. In many instances, IBC has similarities to triple-negative breast cancer, which means the type of cancer does not have any hormone receptors. Testing of your specific form of cancer will aid oncologists in creating a breast cancer treatment plan. If your IBC does not have any hormone receptors, hormone therapies will not be effective. Treatment may begin with chemotherapy, which is a systemic treatment that attempts to kill all the cancer cells. Since IBC can spread quickly, surgeons may recommend a mastectomy to stay ahead of the cancer. Other treatment options include radiation and immunotherapy. A combination of treatments typically has the best prognosis, even for an aggressive forms of breast cancer like IBC.
Since IBC is a rare and aggressive form of breast cancer, your best defense against the disease is early detection. Remember, any unusual changes in your breasts are worth a visit to your doctor.