Inflammatory Breast Cancer

Inflammatory breast cancer is an aggressive, although rare, form of breast cancer. In the past inflammatory breast cancer, being an uncommon cancer, was not given much light. Many women still do not know that inflammatory breast cancer even exists, much less what causes it or what to expect as far as treatment is concern once they are diagnosed.

Inflammatory breast cancer is caused when cancer cells clog the lymphatic vessels in the skin of the breast and is actually not caused by an inflammation or an infection. The blockage causes such symptoms as redness, swelling and dimpled skin.
Other signs and symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer include the following:

� A breast that is red or purple in color. It may also appear pink or bruised.
� A tender, firm or enlarged breast.
� Itching and/or pain of the breast.
� A warm feeling in the breast.
� A dimpled skin texture similar to that of an orange peel.
� A change in color around the areola.
� Flattening or inversion of the nipple.
� Enlargement of lymph nodes under the arm or collarbone.
� Swollen or crusted skin on the nipple.

Many patients do not experience all of the symptoms described above and one does not have to have each and every symptom to be diagnosed. It is very important, however, for patients to seek the advice of their doctor if any of the symptoms are present. Inflammatory breast cancer is extremely aggressive and can be in the later stages upon diagnoses. Time is of the essence when dealing with inflammatory breast cancer.

Inflammatory breast cancer tends to develop as a sheet instead of as a lump or tumor. This makes it impossible to diagnose via mammogram or self breast checks. The symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer are likened to those of mastitis (a breast infection usually found in younger women who are breastfeeding) but does not cause a fever or respond to antibiotics. Inflammatory breast cancer is found in post-menopausal women in two-thirds of the cases.

If a doctor suspects that a patient has inflammatory breast cancer, he or she will recommend a biopsy. Once the biopsy results have confirmed inflammatory breast cancer various tests will be done to determine what stage the cancer is in. To be expected are chest x-rays, a computerized tomography (CT) scan of the chest and abdomen as well as bone scans to check for metastasis (or the spreading of the cancer to other parts of the body).

Once inflammatory breast cancer has been diagnosed and the stage of cancer is determined, treatment begins. In the past, inflammatory breast cancer was treated only with surgery and had a 100 percent mortality rate. Due to the progress of new combinations of treatments being used to care for cancer, inflammatory breast cancer begins with chemotherapy and uses mastectomy surgery and possibly even radiation therapy. The prognosis for women with inflammatory breast cancer has improved due to the use of combined treatments.

A mastectomy is necessary in the treatment of inflammatory breast cancer. However, because the skin of the breast is swollen and fluid filled, surgery is not possible until several rounds of chemotherapy are completed. After a mastectomy, radiation therapy improves the chance of non-recurrence. However, even after chemotherapy, mastectomy, radiation therapy, the recurrence rate is still high. Because of the chance of recurrence, usually recommended are adjuvant therapies such as more chemotherapy or hormone therapies such as tamoxifen (Nolvadex) or anastrozole (Arimidex). Hormone therapies are used when the patient tests positive for estrogen receptors.

Inflammatory breast cancer is finally receiving the attention that it needs in order for women to know the signs and symptoms and to get treatment as quickly as possible to ensure the best outcome for themselves. No longer is inflammatory breast cancer a cancer with a sure outcome of death. Now half of the women diagnosed are still living five years later and one third are still living ten or more years later. It is imperative that women take action as soon as they notice symptoms. It is important for women to spread the word about inflammatory breast cancer so that every woman is made aware of the signs and symptoms.

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