Inflammatory Breast Cancer, more widely known as IBC, is a distinctive and progressive form of ordinary breast cancer. It spreads like wildfire, has different symptoms to detect, and appears as the inflammation of the skin rather than a definite lump. It affects only about 1 to 5 percent of breast cancer varieties.
Inflammatory Breast Cancer ensues when the cancer cells block the lymph vessels in the skin, causing the affected area, i.e. the breast, to look inflamed. Not only is this lethal disease liable to rapid growth, but its symptoms usually go unnoticed, making it even deadlier. It is most likely that it will not appear in ultrasound or on a mammogram. Sometimes, it is also heavily confused with an infection.
Before we discuss all the detailed points of this article, it is essential to understand that Inflammatory Breast Cancer is far more common in women than in men. However, it is also possible that men develop it too. Some risk factors involved are obesity, being younger, i.e. below the age of 50 and 40, having a poor health lifestyle overall, or having a close family member associated with the disease in the past.
Symptoms of Inflammatory Breast Cancer
IBC can manifest itself in numerous ways. As mentioned earlier, this disease doesn’t appear as a lump but continues to grow under the layers of the skin. Some of the significant signs are reviewed down below.
1. Blemishes on the breast
The first and foremost sign of Inflammatory Breast Cancer is blemishes on the breast. This is an early sign, as the blemish or discoloration can range from the colors of reddish-orange, purple, or pink in an appearance on a section of your breast.
You might mistake it for a bruise, but the redness of the breast is a common sign. Hence, please don’t ignore it or shrug it off, thinking it is nothing serious.
2. Discomfort/pain in the breast
Next in the line comes pain or discomfort in your breast. Due to the high level of inflammation, the affected breast may look and feel different. For example, your breast might feel warm upon touching and tender too.
Including the tenderness and pain, IBC can also cause severe itching around the breast area, especially near the nipple. Apart from that, Inflammatory Breast Cancer can induce enlarged lymph nodes. Enlarged lymph nodes around the regions of the collarbone or arm are an alarming sign.
Contact your doctor immediately if you notice such a change.
3. Difference in the size of the breast
If you happen to see a drastic change in the size of your breast, then you might have been infected with Inflammatory Breast Cancer. Since the disease causes inflammation and swelling, the skin around your breast can become thick or dimple and look like that of an orange. This condition is referred to as peau d’orange.
If one breast is larger than the other, that is a worrisome sign. It may also feel rigid and heavier as compared to your other breast. If IBC has attacked you, you may also see a change in your nipples. The nipple can become either inverted or flat.
In case of any of these alerting symptoms, you must instantly consult your doctor or a health professional.
Diagnosis of Inflammatory Breast Cancer
Like in every medical condition, some ways let us know whether or not one has contracted the IBC disease based on the signs, test results, and physical examinations.
Firstly, the doctor is most likely to prescribe antibiotics if an infection intervention is doubted. However, while taking antibiotics, if your symptoms don’t fade within the prescribed period, then IBC can be the culprit.
Due to its advanced and rough nature, Inflammatory Breast Cancer is hard to diagnose. There are no lumps formed which can help analyze during a physical exam. Therefore, there are methods through which the disease’s involvement can be confirmed.
A mammogram is a screening method that teaches X-rays to check signs or decipher breast cancer. During this process, the breasts are compressed to retrieve a better picture of the breast tissue.
It can show whether one breast is denser or if the skin is thicker than the other breast. However, since there are no lumps in Inflammatory Breast Cancer, mammograms cannot detect the disease effectively.
An MRI or a breast MRI can be put in action to form the images of the breast tissue. During this, MRI uses the intensity of magnets and radio waves to produce pictures.
Breast MRI is known to have the highest sensitivity when noting down cancerous changes in the breast. Therefore it is heavily used at the time of IBC’s diagnosis.
A breast ultrasound is also preferred as a better option during the diagnosis of IBC. Instead of using powerful magnets and radio waves like MRI, an ultrasound uses sound waves to generate a picture of the breast tissue.
Not only that, but a breast ultrasound can aid in evaluating the situation of your lymph nodes in the areas where the symptoms usually appear.
Apart from these, CT scans, PET scans, and biopsies are used to diagnose IBC.
Treatment of Inflammatory Breast Cancer
As far as treatment is considered, it is a mix of chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. Once diagnosed with IBC, your doctor will recommend a few more tests like bone scans, chest X-rays, and blood tests to determine how far the disease has spread.
After that, you’ll be suggested immediate treatment plans to counterattack. Remember, the earlier the treatment starts, the more chances you’ll have of recovering.
This drug treatment is given before the surgery to minimize the tumor and lower the disease’s chances of returning.
If necessary, the doctor might perform a mastectomy after chemotherapy. Mastectomy is a procedure where the affected breast is removed altogether.
In most cases, radiation is given after both chemotherapy and surgery are performed. Again, this helps in lowering the chances of cancer bouncing back.
4. Hormonal Therapy
Certain medicines are given if the cancer cells have any hormone receptors. These types of drugs block the receptors from attaching themselves to the hormones.
Lastly, your doctor can also recommend clinical trials. These trials introduce new medicines and drugs to treat diseases to determine if they are safe and work or not.
Though IBC doesn’t happen to every other woman, it is important to stay cautious and updated related to all breast problems and complications. If you have any doubts about your breasts or have recently observed any abnormal development, it is best to contact a medical professional.