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Signs and Symptoms of Inflammatory Breast Cancer

written by: Vikas Vij • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 1/7/2011

It is important to detect inflammatory breast cancer symptoms as early as possible. IBC is one of the rarer and highly aggressive forms of breast cancer. Therefore, early diagnosis can help to delay the progression of the disease.

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    Common Symptoms of IBC

    Inflammatory breast cancer symptoms slightly differ in nature from other forms of breast cancer. In the case of inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) there is normally no lump to be seen, which is the typical symptom with other breast cancers. IBC is considered among the aggressive forms of breast cancer but its occurrence is much rarer. As per the data obtained by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in the U.S., only about 1 to 5 percent of all cases diagnosed with breast cancer are IBCs. The average age at which this cancer is diagnosed in the United States is 57 for Whites and 52 for African Americans. The incidence of this cancer appears to be more common among the African American women. Overweight and obesity seem to contribute to this disease.

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    Early Signs of Inflammatory Breast Cancer

    The earliest warning sign of IBC is that the patient’s breast may become swollen and reddish or inflamed. It is critical for the patient to take note of the early signs because this is a very aggressive form of breast cancer. The symptoms may begin to deteriorate within days therefore urgent treatment must be sought once the symptoms appear. Advanced treatments are available that can slow down the progress of the disease if detected early.

    Some patients may feel a heaviness or thickness of the breasts at the early stages of the disease. The disease has a tendency to spread in the form of sheaths or layers of breast tissue, which are also sometimes called as “nests." Inflammation of the breast tissue occurs due to the clogging of the vessels that carry lymph. Vessels may become clogged due to the presence of cancer cells.

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    Other Inflammatory Breast Cancer Symptoms

    Redness of the breast, which is one of the earliest signs of the disease, may keep appearing and disappearing in some cases. Swelling of the breast may also occur either in the full or partial breast. The patient may feel the breast taking the appearance of an orange peel. The patient may also feel an unnatural warmth in the breast tissue. There may also be some pain in the breast, which should not be ignored as an infection if other symptoms are also present.

    The breast skin may undergo typical changes such as it may develop hives or ridges, or may appear bruised and pink. Swelling may be seen in the lymph nodes above the collarbone or under the arm. The nipple may have an abnormal discharge, or may retract, invert or flatten. There may be a bruise on the breast that does not heal, and there may be itching around the affected area.

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    Similarity of Symptoms with Mastitis

    In case of inflammatory breast cancer, some of the symptoms may be quite similar to those caused by mastitis. Mastitis is a common breast infection that usually occurs in breastfeeding mothers. However, this is a benign infection that may result in mild fever and gets cured with antibiotic treatment. But the crucial thing is to differentiate between mastitis and IBC. If the patient has been treated for mastitis but the symptoms do not improve, it is important to get tested for IBC. A similar approach must be adopted in case the patient is diagnosed with any bacterial infection in the breast that does not go away with treatment.

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