Inflammatory breast cancer is rare, often beginning with one abnormal cell in one of the breast’s ducts. Contrary to most types of cancer, inflammatory breast cancer typically doesn’t include a tumor or growth. Instead, accumulating abnormal cells can quickly grow and clog the lymphatic vessels in the skin of your breast causing red, swollen, dimpled skin.
The red, swollen, dimpled skin characteristic of inflammatory breast cancer can be confused with a breast infection (like mastitis), so it’s important to have your condition checked out by a doctor quickly if you experience symptoms.
When you visit your gynecologist, they often will perform a breast examination, however, you should also be checking periodically for lumps or other abnormalities in your breasts. When pregnant or during your period, breast tissue can become “lumpy” and sensitive because of hormones, so suspicious areas found during those times may not be cause for alarm, but still should be checked out by your doctor.
If you suspect you may have something wrong with your breasts, it is best to have it checked by your doctor to assure early detection and treatment. Some questions you may want to ask include:
- How is cancer diagnosed? Your doctor will perform a physical examination of your breast to look for signs of inflammatory breast cancer. An imaging test such as a mammogram, or ultrasound may be ordered to look for thickened skin. As needed, the doctor may remove a sample of breast tissue to look for cancerous cells.
- What causes this type of cancer? If you are a woman over the age of 50 you are at more risk for developing inflammatory breast cancer, even though men and younger women can also get it. Statistics have shown that black women have a higher risk than white women for this type of cancer.
- So, I’ve been diagnosed. Now what? If diagnosed, the doctor will probablyperform a CT scan or biopsy to try to determine the stage your cancer is in. Staging can be either IIIB (locally advanced, may have spread to nearby lymph nodes) or IV (cancer has spread to other parts of your body).
- How is breast cancer treated? Inflammatory breast cancer is often treated with chemotherapy followed by surgery and radiation therapy. Treatment often includes preventing the cancer from recurring. Hormone therapy or targeted therapy may also be used.
- Should I get a second opinion? It is your choice, but you should be your own best advocate. If you want a second opinion, ask for one! Many doctors welcome a second opinion, contrary to what you might think. Many insurance companies may cover additional testing performed by a different doctor if your doctor requests it. Some insurance companies even require a second opinion. The short delay taken in getting all the information to allow you to feel more confident and in control of your health in most cases will not be detrimental to your treatment.
- Is there a cure for breast cancer? While there is no definitive cure for breast cancer, ongoing research has brought great strides in treatment and detection of breast cancers. Make sure to educate yourself about inflammatory breast cancer so you can make good decisions about your treatment.
- Is there any research I can do on my own and what sources would you recommend? A cancer diagnosis can be scary, frustrating, and depressing. Your doctors can suggest their favorite reputable web sites and any known support groups for obtaining more information and helping you cope with breast cancer.
www.mayoclinic.com Breast Cancer
www.cancer.gov Breast Cancer
Do you have a question about cancer? Check out EmpowHER’s cancer page. Sign-up, post a question, share your story, connect with other women in our community and feel EmpowHERed!
Christine Jeffries is a writer/editor for work and at heart, and lives in a home of testosterone with her husband and two sons. Christine is interested in women’s health and promoting strong women.