Inflammatory Breast Cancer

By Tiffany Tseng. May 7th 2016

As Breast Cancer Awareness Month is fast approaching, it may be a good time now to teach yourself and your loved ones a little something about the various types of breast cancer. Breast cancer is one of the most common types of cancer to affect females (however, men can also get breast cancer), and can be extremely devastating for the affected as well as their surrounding family and friends. Inflammatory breast cancer, often abbreviated as IBC, is a very rare type of breast cancer that has differing signs and symptoms from the more common types. Read on to learn the differences between inflammatory breast cancer and other types of breast cancers.


Inflammatory breast cancer is a rare, but aggressive type of breast cancer. The average age for diagnosing IBC is usually five years earlier than other forms of breast cancer, and symptoms can worsen in a matter of days or hours. The general prognosis for IBC is also lower than other forms of breast cancer; for IBC, the five-year survival rate is 34 percent, while other forms can be as high as 87 percent.

One of the reasons for the low prognosis in IBC is that it is difficult to catch the cancer in the early stages, as the symptoms are not typical of breast cancer and cannot be determined via mammograms and breast examinations. In IBC, the breast cancer cells infiltrate the lymph tissues in the breast and blocks the drainage of the lymph nodes. In this case, the cancer cells can spread more quickly and readily throughout the body via the lymphatic system.

Just like any breast cancer, IBC can affect both men and women, although women are at higher risk than men. Individuals who are obese, have a family history of breast cancer, or are of African-American heritage are also at higher risk of contracting IBC. There is no definite known cause for inflammatory breast cancer.

[Related – 10 Common Breast Cancer Risk Factors]

Signs And Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of IBC are vastly different from other types of breast cancer. For example, mammograms cannot pick up cancerous growths of inflammatory breast cancer, as IBC does not have abnormal lumps and tumors as a symptom.

[Related – A Guide To Mammogram Screening]

Here are some other signs of IBC:

  • Discoloration (red, pink, purple, bruised-looking)
  • Dimpling and thickening of the skin, with appearance like that of an orange peel (peau d'orange)
  • Breast is warm or hot to the touch
  • Swelling, rapid increase in breast size, sense of heaviness
  • Recent changes in breast size in one breast only
  • Skin rash (can be in patches or whole breast)
  • Burning, pain, or tenderness of the breast (see Breast Pain Symptoms)
  • Inverted or flattened nipple
  • Nipple discharge
  • Swollen lymph nodes under the arm, near collar bone, or on the neck

It is very important to seek treatment or see a health care provider if you experience similar changes in the breast and you are in a high-risk group, as IBC symptoms can worsen in a matter of hours.


The treatment for IBC is more similar to other types of breast cancer. Typically, treatment would start with chemotherapy, surgical removal of the tumor (or the entire breast), then radiation therapy. Most of the time, doctors may choose to use a combination of systemic (body-wide) and localized treatments to maximize treatment effects. Hormone therapy may also be administered if deemed appropriate. Since each person’s health history and health status at the time of diagnosis is vastly different, treatment options will vary from person to person.

[Related – How Chemotherapy Works: An Introductory Guide]


Here is a comparison between IBC and other types of breast cancer.

Inflammatory Breast Cancer

Other Types of Breast Cancer

Cannot be detected by mammograms

Can be detected by mammograms

Cannot detect suspicious pre-cancerous lumps

Suspicious lumps can be detected through a breast exam

“Orange peel” dimpling of the skin (peau d'orange)

Breast and skin can be normal in appearance

Breast is warm to the touch

Breast is body temperature with no significant change

Abnormal lymphatic swelling in the armpit and around collar bone

Abnormal lymphatic swelling elsewhere around/on the breast

Discoloration (can be red, pink, purple, or bruised-looking)

No significant discoloration of the breast

Skin rash (can be in patches or whole breast)

No skin rash or conditions

Prognosis: about 34 percent

Prognosis: about 87 percent

Aggressive and spreads quickly

Can be slower at spreading

Inflammatory breast cancer is an aggressive type of breast cancer, so if you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, be sure to make an appointment with your health care provider to eliminate the possibility as soon as possible. Even if you are already receiving annual mammograms and breast examinations, be sure to still keep an eye out for signs and symptoms of IBC, as those checkups may not necessarily catch them. In lieu of Breast Cancer Awareness month, spread this information to your friends and family!


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