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Inflammatory Breast Cancer

  • Definition

    Inflammatory breast cancer is an uncommon type of breast cancer that accounts for 1 to 4 percent of all cases of the disease.


    Most breast cancers (86 percent) start in the ducts, 12 percent start in lobules, and the rest in surrounding tissues. Thus, a cancer will probably be described as either ductal carcinoma or lobular carcinoma.

    Since lobules and ducts are kinds of glands, and the medical term meaning "related to a gland" is "adeno," sometimes these cancers are called adenocarcinomas.

    Inflammatory breast cancer invades the lymph vessels of the skin of the breast and blocks these vessels, resulting in a reddened appearance of the skin.


    As with most cancers, there is no evident cause for most cases. Family history of this form of cancer can be important.


    Symptoms may include a lump in the breast, feelings of breast enlargement or thickness, pain in the breast or nipple, warmth, redness, and swelling. Ridges may appear on the skin, or the breasts may appear pitted, like the skin of an orange (called peau d'orange).

    A small number of people with this type of cancer will have a discharge from the nipple, and the nipple may also be pulled back. A surgical biopsy is usually done to confirm the diagnosis.

    Frequently, the patient and even the doctor will mistake it for a simple infection and the patient is put on antibiotics. But if it doesn't get better, this is a tip-off requiring a biopsy.


    Diagnosis is suspected clinically and confirmed based on biopsy or examination of surgical specimens.


    Inflammatory breast cancer spreads quickly throughout the breast and to other sites. At present chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation therapy are used to treat this disease.

    chemotherapy is usually given first to help control the disease in the breast and to treat cancer cells that may have spread throughout the body. Patients whose cancer cells depend on the female hormone estrogen for their growth may also receive hormone therapy, which interferes with estrogen's effect, after chemotherapy. Surgical removal of the breast (mastectomy) is generally recommended along with radiation therapy to help control any cancer cells that may remain in the original tumor site.

    Treatment plans generally include a combination of surgery (for diagnosis), radiotherapy (preoperative or postoperative electron-beam irradiation), and chemotherapy. Patients should be considered candidates for one of the ongoing clinical trials in progress to improve therapeutic results in this disease.

    Statistics in the past suggest that most women with this aggressive cancer had a survival rate of about 18 months, with only 2 percent surviving five years. With the advent of systemic treatments and other techniques, the five-year survival rate is about 40 percent.


    Is the diagnosis of inflammatory breast cancer confirmed by biopsy?

    What is the staging?

    What are the treatment options?

    Is chemotherapy recommended?

    Will radiation therapy help?

    What are the side effects of these treatments?

    Is mastectomy necessary?

    What is the survival rate?