Inflammatory Breast Cancer

Inflammatory breast cancer is fairly rare yet aggressive form of breast cancer.  When cancer cells build up to the point where they can block the lymph vessels in the skin of the breast it forms swollen or inflamed areas on the breast.  This type of breast cancer only accounts for about 1 to 5 percent of all the breast cancers diagnosed in the US.  Further details on this special type of breast cancer will be discussed along with typical symptoms, treatments and prognosis.

Inflammatory breast cancer usually begins as invasive ductal carcinoma.  But as the cancer expands throughout the breasts, the cells can block the lymph vessels and create the condition.  This disease tends to progress rapidly and is often at a Stage III or IV once it is diagnosed.  It can therefore be very life threatening.

It has been found that inflammatory breast cancer tends to get diagnosed in younger women than most of types of breast cancer.  In this case it is a median age of 57 versus 62 for other types.  And it tends to affect younger African American women over white women of the same age.

This type of breast cancer is also more common in obese women than women who have weight which is more appropriate to their height and build.

The typical symptoms of this type of breast cancer can include swelling of the breast or redness over about a third of the breast.  The skin can also appear pink, dark purple or bruised.  And it may have ridges or pits across the surface similar to the surface of an orange.  Other symptoms can include a burning sensation in the breasts, an inverted nipple, or the presence of swollen lymph nodes.

Since these symptoms can also be associated with other diseases or problems, proper diagnosis of inflammatory breast cancer can be delayed because patients and even doctors may believe the problem is caused by something else.

Since there is generally no lump present during a physical exam or on a mammogram, the presence of cancer can be difficult to spot.  In addition many of the women who develop this disease have dense tissue in the breast which can make the detection of cancer through a mammogram more difficult.

For those who are diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer, treatment is typically first started with chemotherapy to help to shrink the tumor which has developed.  At that point surgery can be undertaken to remove as much of the cancerous as possible.  This is followed by radiation therapy to try to kill off any remaining cancer cells.  This type of therapy is called a multi-modal approach and it has had greater success for longer term prognosis than many other types of treatment.

Since women who have inflammatory breast cancer are typically in a later stage of cancer, the prognosis is not as strong as other types of cancer which are more localized.  One study put the five year survival rate of women with this type of breast cancer at 34 percent compared with a five year survival rate of 87 percent for earlier stages and types of breast cancer.  However new detection methods and treatments are improving the long term prognosis steadily.

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