By Brie Cadman / Divine Caroline
Most women know what to look for with breast cancer — a suspicious lump during a self-exam, an abnormal spot on a mammogram. However, there’s another type of breast cancer that most women haven’t heard of that doesn’t have the telltale tumor.
Instead, it appears more like an infection — red and irritated skin, with breast tenderness or swelling. But because these unusual symptoms are often ignored, overlooked, or misdiagnosed, knowing about inflammatory breast cancer (IBC), a rare but aggressive form of breast cancer, can be life-saving.
The Other Breast Cancer
With IBC, which accounts for 1 to 5 percent of all breast cancer cases in the United States, the typical early warning signs of a lump or abnormal mammogram may be missing. Underlying cancer cells block lymphatic tissues, causing the breast to swell and change color. The symptoms often mimic an infection. According to the National Cancer Institute, things to look for include:
* Redness, swelling, and warmth in the breast, often without a distinct lump
* Skin that appears pink, red, purple, or bruised; the skin may also have ridges or appear pitted.
* Heaviness, burning, aching, tenderness in a breast, an increase in breast size, or an inverted nipple
* Rapid change in the appearance of a breast, over the course of days, weeks, or months
In addition, sometimes lymph nodes under the arm or above the collarbone can become swollen.
It’s important to note that these symptoms don’t necessarily mean IBC. Other conditions, including benign breast infection (mastitis), injury, surgery, or other cancers can also be the cause. However, misdiagnosis can delay important treatment, so it’s critical to follow up when unusual changes in the breast are noticed.
What Causes It?
Like other types of breast cancer, the exact cause of IBC is unknown. What is known is that women with IBC tend to be diagnosed at a younger age than those who have other breast cancers; the average age of diagnosis is fifty-nine, which is three to seven years younger than the average age at diagnosis for other types.