5 Things You Need to Know About Inflammatory Breast Cancer

Contrary to popular belief, breast cancer isn’t one-size-fits all. There are many different types of breast cancer out there.

Inflammatory Breast Cancer is often overlooked because it’s rare and it doesn’t produce the “typical” lump that we search for during a breast exam with your doc or when you are examining your own breasts. But it’s important to add Inflammatory Breast Cancer back into the conversation. Here’s what you need to know about it.


Inflammatory breast cancer is a rare, aggressive form of breast cancer that tends to affect younger women the most.

It occurs when cancerous cells in the breast block the skin’s lymph vessels – causing the breast to become swollen, or inflamed. Inflammatory breast cancer progresses fast and is usually either Stage III or Stage IV by the time it is diagnosed.  While it is a more rare form of breast cancer than the other types out there, it is most prevalent in women of African ancestry and women in developing countries.


Unlike other types of breast cancer, Inflammatory Breast Cancer doesn’t typically appear as a breast lump.

Inflammatory Breast Cancer’s symptoms are created from the build up of fluid in the skin as a result of cancer cells creating a blockage in the lymph vessels. Most often this looks like a swollen breast, red or purple-ish skin, bruising, or dimpled skin (similar to an orange peel). However other signs of Inflammatory Breast Cancer include an increase in breast size, inverted nipple, itching or burning sensation, thickened skin, and tenderness or pain.


Inflammatory Breast Cancer is tricky to diagnose since there are not necessarily breast lumps that appear on a scan or to the touch.

Inflammatory Breast Cancer is also more often found in women with dense breast tissue, which is known to make mammogram screening more difficult. Since Inflammatory Breast Cancer is so aggressive, it can sometimes develop in between regular screenings and progress quickly. Because of the unique nature of this kind of breast cancer, diagnoses usually occurs in two steps.

Symptom Check:
  • Whether the symptoms mentioned above have been present for less than six months.
  • Whether the swelling and inflammation (called an erythema) takes up more than 1/3 of the breast.
Screening Methods:
  • Mammogram AND ultrasound of the breast and surrounding lymph nodes.
  • Biopsy samples to check for benign or cancerous cells.
  • PET, CT, and/or bone scans to see if the cancer has spread.


Inflammatory Breast Cancer tumours are often Hormone Receptor Negative, meaning they cannot be treated with hormonal therapy (HT), which is a common treatment option for other types of breast cancer.

There are a variety of treatment options for those diagnosed with Inflammatory Breast Cancer, some are as follows:

  • CHEMOTHERAPY. This is usually the first kind of treatment given to after diagnosis. The goal is to kill all the cancerous cells in the breast and anywhere else in the body.
  • SURGERY. There is a high likelihood of recurrence for Inflammatory Breast Cancer. Because of this, breast-conserving surgeries are not offered. Surgery options include: a modified radical mastectomy or an axillary lymph node dissection.
  • RADIATION THERAPY. Often given after chemotherapy in order to reduce the risk of recurrence.
  • HORMONAL THERAPY. If the Inflammatory Breast Cancer is hormone receptor positive, hormonal therapy drugs can be used (often Tamoxifen for women who have not reached menopause yet).


Prognoses differ from person to person. It’s best to consult a doctor who’s familiar with your personal and family medical history in order to get an accurate prognosis.

In general, because of its aggressive nature, the five-year relative survival rating for women with Inflammatory Breast Cancer is lower than women diagnosed with other forms of the disease. However, it is really important to know that there are a number of personal factors (including medical and family history) that will affect specific cases.

Additionally, more and more clinical trials (the opportunity to test out new treatments and medical advancements) are becoming available to women diagnosed with various types of breast cancer. Check out our YouTube video to find out how you can access these kinds of trials!

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