Inflammatory breast cancer

Last Modified: January 10, 2006


Dear OncoLink "Ask The Experts,"

Can you please give me some information on inflammatory breast cancer? I recently had a relative diagnosed with this condition and I am not sure if it is different from regular breast cancer .


Carolyn Vachani RN, MSN, AOCN, OncoLink's Nurse Educator, responds:

Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) accounts for 1 to 4% of all breast cancers. It invades the lymphatic system of the skin of the breast, so it does not present as a traditional lump. Characteristics of IBC include enlargement, redness, warmth and induration (hardening) of the breast tissue, flattening or retraction of the nipple, and peau d'orange (the breast feels like the skin of an orange). These symptoms can be confused with infection and patients are often treated with antibiotics before a diagnosis is made. Unfortunately, IBC is an aggressive cancer, with over one-third of patients having metastatic disease at diagnosis.

In general, patients with IBC are treated with chemotherapy, then surgery (mastectomy), then more chemotherapy, followed by radiation. The chemotherapy drugs used for treatment are the same as in other breast cancers. Several studies have looked at breast-conserving surgery (no mastectomy) for IBC. Unfortunately, in order to remove all the cancerous tissue, this option often results in poor cosmetic outcomes. In addition, studies have seen more frequent recurrence in the affected breast when mastectomy was not used. For these reasons, breast-conserving surgery is not recommended at this time for IBC.