Symptoms ; Inflammatory Breast Cancer:
Although most breast cancers begin as lumps or tumors, inflammatory breast cancer usually starts with a feeling of thickness or heaviness in the breast. You also may develop red, inflamed skin on the breast. IBC tends to grow in the form of layers or “sheets” of tissue, which doctors sometimes call “nests.”
The breasts swell and become inflamed because the cancer cells clog the vessels that carry lymph. Lymph is a clear, watery fluid that transports white blood cells and removes bacteria and proteins from the tissues.
Common symptoms of IBC include:
Redness of the breast: Redness involving part or the entire breast is a hallmark of inflammatory breast cancer. Sometimes the redness comes and goes.
Swelling of the breast: Part of or all of the breast may be swollen, enlarged, and hard.
Warmth: The breast may feel warm.
Orange-peel appearance: Your breast may swell and start to look like the peel of a navel orange (this is called “peau d’orange”).
Other skin changes: The skin of the breast might look pink or bruised, or you may have what looks like ridges, welts, or hives on your breast.
Swelling of lymph nodes: The lymph nodes under your arm or above the collarbone may be swollen.
Flattening or inversion of the nipple: The nipple may go flat or turn inward.
Aching or burning: Your breast may ache or feel tender.
Some of these symptoms are similar to those caused by
mastitis, a breast infection that can occur in women who are breastfeeding.
Unlike inflammatory breast cancer, however, mastitis usually causes a
fever and is easily treated with antibiotics. If you are diagnosed with
mastitis that is not responding to treatment, ask your doctor about testing
for inflammatory breast cancer. The same holds true if you are told you
have cellulitis, which is a bacterial infection of the breast skin. Any
persistent breast changes should be looked at by a breast specialist.
Diagnosis and Staging of Inflammatory Breast Cancer:
Because inflammatory breast cancer forms in layers, your doctor may not feel a distinct lump during a breast exam and a mammogram may not detect one either. However, It is possible to see and feel the skin thickening that often happens with IBC. This skin thickening can also be detected on a mammogram.
In most cases, inflammatory breast cancer is diagnosed when you or your doctor can see or feel breast changes such as redness, swelling, warmth, or an orange-peel look to the skin. Because IBC grows quickly, it is usually found at a locally advanced stage, meaning that cancer cells have spread into nearby breast tissue or lymph nodes. Just about all people with IBC have evidence of cancer in the lymph nodes. In approximately 1 out of 3 people with IBC, the cancer has spread from the breast to other areas of the body.
If you’ve been diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer, it’s completely understandable if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Keep in mind, though, that there are a variety of treatment options available for IBC.
Stages of inflammatory breast cancer:
Once the staging tests described above are completed, you doctor will describe the inflammatory breast cancer as stage IIIB, stage IIIC, or stage IV.
Stage IIIB means the cancer has spread to tissues near the breast, such as the skin or chest wall, including the ribs and muscles in the chest. The cancer may have spread to lymph nodes within the breast or under the arm.
Stage IIIC means the cancer has spread to lymph nodes beneath the collarbone and near the neck. The cancer also may have spread to lymph nodes within the breast or under the arm and to tissues near the breast.
Stage IV means that the cancer has spread to other organs. These can include the bones, lungs, liver, and/or brain, as well as the lymph nodes in the neck.