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What Is Inflammatory Breast Cancer?

Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) is a relatively uncommon but highly aggressive form of breast cancer in which cancerous cells block the lymph vessels within a breast, leading to inflammation. As is the case with all types of cancer, early detection of IBC is key to achieving the best possible outcome and quality of life. However, this can sometimes be a challenge, mainly because the symptoms of IBC are not widely recognized. Many people associate breast cancer with breast lumps, but early-stage IBC does not typically produce lumps that can be felt.

What are the symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer?

Instead of a noticeable lump or abnormal mammogram result, the first signs of IBC are often similar to those produced by a breast infection, such as the type of infection that some women develop after nursing a baby. The most common symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer are:

  • Breast discomfort – An affected breast may feel tender, heavy, hot or itchy.
  • Changes in breast skin – Areas of a breast may appear red or pink in color, or dimpled or pitted in texture, similar to an orange peel. Ridges, welts or hives may also develop.
  • Swelling – One breast may become noticeably larger than the other, or the lymph nodes in the neck, collarbone or underarm area may become swollen.
  • Changes in a nipple – The nipple of an affected breast may produce discharge or become flattened, dimpled or inverted.

These symptoms can occur as the dermal lymphatics in the skin covering a breast are invaded by cancerous cells. Specifically, obstructed lymph vessels in a breast can produce skin changes that mimic a benign inflammatory process. Because IBC progresses very rapidly, its symptoms may become markedly worse within days or even hours.

If you are experiencing inflammatory breast cancer symptoms, you do not need a referral to consult with an oncologist in the Don & Erika Wallace Comprehensive Breast Program at Moffitt Cancer Center. Instead, you can request an appointment by calling 1-888-663-3488 or completing our new patient registration form online.