Symptoms of Inflammatory Breast Cancer: Awareness Can Save Lives

Symptoms of Inflammatory breast cancer are different from the routine kinds of breast cancers that we generally see. Most patients with present with a lump that they feel in their breasts or an abnormal mammogram. Rarely, they present with an abnormal breast ultrasound or an abnormal MRI scan. Inflammatory breast cancers are unique and are a challenge to both patients and most primary care physicians which many times leads to delay in the diagnosis and treatment of such patients.

The symptoms of inflammatory breast cancers typically mimic an infection of the involved breast, also called mastitis. It is easy to attribute the changes of redness, swelling, pain and bloody nipple discharge as being due to an infection. It is common knowledge that cancers of the breasts are painless, so when these painful symptoms are felt by the patient, they feel reassured that they are not dealing with breast cancer. Many primary care physicians usually go along with the diagnosis of mastitis and prescribe several trials of antibiotics. Weeks go by while the pain and swelling continue to worsen to a point when a surgical opinion is obtained.

Examination of the breast that would lead to a suspicion of inflammatory breast cancer include

1. Diffuse redness with the skin having an orange peel appearance in texture and thickness. This is attributed to the involvement of cancer cells below the skin of the breast.

2. A mass within the breast may not be felt.

3. The breast is extremely tender and painful.

4. Bloody nipple discharge and retraction of the nipple is seen often.

5. Enlarged lymph nodes in the arm pit area.

The definitive way of confirming Dr Vikas Goswami inflammatory breast cancer is through a surgical biopsy and confirmation of the diagnosis in a pathology lab.

Do all patients with inflammatory changes in their breast be worried about Inflammatory Breast Cancer?

The resounding answer is..NO! Infections of the breast are fairly common especially in lactating mothers. A short trial of antibiotics should be tried initially as well as local care such as warm compresses. If the symptoms do not subside within a few days, the patients should be evaluated very quickly by a qualified surgeon for further evaluation. Remember, the incidence of inflammatory breast cancers is only 2 to 5% of all breast cancer that are diagnosed at any given time. So, they are NOT very common.

Women need to be aware of this entity and take appropriate action while not forgetting that mammograms, breast self exams and regular medical check ups are still the key to early detection and better cure rates for cancer of the breast.

Dr. Kumar is a board certified Radiation Oncologist who is co-founder of a private practice group called Coastal Cyberknife and Radiation Oncology in Saint Lucie County, Florida. He has over 17 years experience dealing with breast cancer patients including several members in his own family who have been afflicted by this disease.

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