Women should be aware that not every type of breast cancer reveals itself with a lump during self exams. An aggressive, fast-spreading form called inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) grows in nests or sheets of cancer cells that spread through the breast. Because it is relatively rare, IBC is often diagnosed late or even misdiagnosed as an infection.
IBC accounts for about 1 percent to 6 percent of new breast cancer cases, according to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.
“The most common symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer will be redness, swelling and sometimes pain,” says Dr. Debu Tripathy, who leads the Komen/UT Southwestern Medical Center Breast Cancer Research Program. “And keep in mind that for people who have darker skin, it may be difficult to appreciate the redness. Sometimes all people feel is warmth and swelling. It can very easily be mistaken for an infection.”
Some patients with IBC show a retraction or flattening of the nipple. Others have a nipple discharge, an unstoppable itch or a dimpling of the skin that appears like the skin of an orange. A biopsy is necessary to make the diagnosis, Dr. Tripathy says.
IBC survival rates greatly depend on when it is diagnosed. With recent advances in breast cancer treatment, the five-year IBC survival rate is now about 50 percent, according to experts.
Dr. Tripathy advises that women consult a doctor immediately if they have breast redness, pain or other symptoms possibly associated with IBC.