What You Should Know About Inflammatory Breast Cancer

Feb 25, 2018 8:31:00 AM

Posted by Diane Campbell

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woman on beach.jpgInflammatory breast cancer is a rare form of breast cancer in which cancerous cells block the lymph vessels in breast tissue, causing the breast to become swollen, red, sensitive, or otherwise inflamed. It is rare, accounting for less than 5% of breast cancer cases, and it is easily mistaken for mastitis, a breast infection common among nursing mothers.[1] Because inflammatory breast cancer is also very aggressive, it’s important to be able to recognize its symptoms and get in to see your doctor as soon as possible if they appear.


What symptoms can indicate inflammatory breast cancer?

If you notice the following symptoms, consult with your doctor:

  • Sudden changes in one breast
  • Lump under the arm
  • Skin of the breast unusually warm to the touch
  • Breast heaviness, aching, or pain
  • Redness or a bruising
  • Dimpling, ridges, or an orange-peel appearance on skin of the breast
  • Flattening or inversion of the nipple[2]


After an inflammatory breast cancer diagnosis, what comes next?

Inflammatory breast cancer is always at least locally advanced (stage 3) when diagnosed. Consequently, treatment must begin quickly to limit its spread as effectively as possible.


Chemotherapy & Other Medications

Typically, the first step in treating inflammatory breast cancer is to attempt to shrink the tumor with chemotherapy. Depending on the tumor’s characteristics, targeted therapies may also be used at this time.[3] If the tumor fails to respond to these initial treatments, further chemotherapy and/or radiation may be prescribed prior to surgery.[4]



Surgery is typically scheduled after the tumor responds to pre-surgical treatments. The standard surgery for inflammatory breast cancer is a modified radical mastectomy, in which the entire breast and some of the lymph nodes under the arm are removed. Because of the especially aggressive nature of inflammatory breast cancer, breast-conserving surgery is not typically recommended.[5] However, in some cases, chemotherapy may shrink the tumor sufficiently to make lumpectomy a viable option.[6]

Early detection provides the best chance to successfully treat inflammatory breast cancer. When looking at survival data, it's important to bear in mind that survival rates tend to improve over time—sometimes dramatically. While older data suggest a 65% 5-year survival rate for women with inflammatory breast cancer, a study of women diagnosed after 2006 found that 82% lived at least three years following diagnosis, compared to just 63% of women diagnosed prior to 2006.[7] After cancer spreads to distant parts of the body, it is no longer curable, but it is still treatable. It’s estimated that 34% of women living with metastatic breast cancer today have had the condition for at least five years, and some women may live ten or more years beyond diagnosis.[8]


Iowa Radiology provides modern 3-D mammography, which has been shown to significantly increase detection of invasive breast cancers while reducing unnecessary callbacks.[9] We’re an American College of Radiology-certified Breast Imaging Center of Excellence, ensuring that we meet high standards of training, education, and safety. In addition to mammography, we provide breast MRI, breast ultrasound, and imaging-guided breast biopsy. Contact us to schedule your next imaging appointment or to ask any questions you may have about our services. For more information about IBC and other types of breast cancer, click below to access our free resources.


(CTAs here for new ebook and infographic)


[1] "Inflammatory Breast Cancer." Cancer.gov. National Cancer Institute, 23 May 2012. Accessed 22 Jan 2018.

[2] "Inflammatory Breast Cancer." MayoClinic.org. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 31 May 2017. Accessed 22 Jan 2018.

[3] "Inflammatory Breast Cancer." Cancer.gov. National Cancer Institute, 23 May 2012. Accessed 22 Jan 2018.

[4] "Surgery for Inflammatory Breast Cancer." Breastcancer.org, 17 Sept 2012. Accessed 22 Jan 2018.

[5] Ibid.

[6] "Locally Advanced or Inflammatory Breast Cancer." Komen.org. Susan G Komen, 8 May 2017. Accessed 22 Jan 2018.

[7] Ibid.

[8] "Treatments for Metastatic Breast Cancer." Komen.org. Susan G Komen, 10 April 2017. Accessed 23 Jan 2018.

[9] Friedewald, et al. “Breast Cancer Screening Using Tomosynthesis in Combination With Digital Mammography.” JAMA. 25 June 2014. Accessed 23 Jan 2018.


The information contained in the Iowa Radiology website is presented as public service information only. It is not intended to be nor is it a substitute for professional medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider if you think you may have a medical problem before starting any new treatment, or if you have any questions regarding your medical condition.

Iowa Radiology occasionally supplies links to other web sites as a service to its readers and is not in any way responsible for information provided by other organizations.


Topics: cancer

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Iowa Radiology was founded in 2001 by a group of well-known central Iowa diagnostic professionals who wished to emphasize the personal side of diagnostic care as much as the technical side.


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