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A Silent Slayer

Inflammatory Breast Cancer

By Tammy L Adams
Case study by Rebecca Fenzel


What is Inflammatory Breast Cancer?

IBC is a distinctive form of accelerated breast cancer that often slips past the detection of mammograms and ultrasounds. Once diagnosed, inflammatory breast cancer requires immediate aggressive chemotherapy followed by surgery.

The absence of an apparent lump makes IBC difficult to diagnose and even harder to cure than most known breast cancers.  Instead, it clogs the lymphatic system while spreading beneath the skin and giving the breast an abnormal appearance. Since IBC’s rash-like symptoms are often misdiagnosed, the patient survival rate is significantly lower than for other cancers.


IBC Affects What Segment of the Population

  • Women and men of all ages
  • All ethnicities, with higher occurrences for African Americans
  • Teens and young adults, who are reluctant to seek treatment

Due to the absence of a lump or tumor, IBC in the early stages, often resembles the texture of an orange peel and is mistaken for a rash or skin infection.  The skin of the breast develops the warm crimson of inflammation along with sensitivity and itch as the affected breast enlarges.  Despite its name, the cause of Inflammatory Breast Cancer is not inflammation or infection, IBC occurs when cancer cells obstruct the lymphatic vessels of the skin, causing tenderness, discoloration and dimpling of the breast tissue.



  • One enlarged breast
  • Discolored or reddened skin
  • Swelling
  • Rash (entire breast or patches)
  • Orange peel texture
  • Pain and/or itch
  • Ridges or thickened areas
  • Nipple discharge
  • Inverted or flattened nipples
  • Swollen armpit or neck lymph nodes


Know Your Body

Since IBC is often mistaken for an antibiotic resistant skin rash or infection, the patient must become their own advocate and insist on diagnostic procedures.  Detection of this life robbing disease begins with observation of changes occurring in the breast, followed by biopsy, mammogram and/or ultrasound.


 IBC Treatment:

      • Initial chemotherapy to kill cancer cells that may have spread to other areas of the body
      • Surgery: a mastectomy is performed to remove the majority of breast tissue along with any effected underarm lymph nodes
      • Radiation therapy is employed after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells
      • Target therapies differ from chemotherapy in their design to control the cancer and strike where it lurks
      • Hormonal therapy is utilized to prevent cancer growth by changing the patients body chemistry and suppressing female estrogen

The side effects from these grueling therapies exhaust the physical and mental strength of the patient and an emotional support system becomes a vital part of the treatment process.


Shocking Statistics

  • IBC's approximately 3,650 yearly diagnosis, account for about 2.5 percent of all breast cancer cases
  • Between 1998 and 1999 the average number of IBC cases increased from 2 per 100,000 women to 2.5, in contrast to the decreases in other breast cancer instances
  • The average age of a woman diagnosed with IBC is 59, approximately 3-7 years younger than the age of patients with other forms of breast cancer.  Teens (as young as 12) and young adults are more likely to be diagnosed with the inflammatory form of breast cancer
  • With an average of 3.1 percent in 100,000, African American women are more likely to develop IBC than any other ethnic group
  • Individuals live an average of 3 years with IBC, compared to the 6-10 years of women with other breast cancer types

Article Provided Courtesy of Making Memories Breast Cancer Foundation

The National Cancer Institute,