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Inflammatory Breast Cancer Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) is a rare and very aggressive form of breast cancer. It only accounts for 1-3% of all breast cancers. The most recent data shows that even with aggressive treatment, the five-year survival rate only stands at 40%. This is in part due to delays in treatment because of misdiagnosis, as it is often mistaken as a breast infection.

Possible symptoms (not everyone will have all of these symptoms):

  • Red, pink, or bruised appearance over part or all of the breast. Some people reported it started out looking like a mosquito bite while others had patches of redness in various sizes.
  • A breast that is warm to the touch
  • A breast that has swollen in size (some have reported dramatic changes in size in as little as 24 hours)
  • Peau d’orange of the breast skin. This causes the skin to resemble the skin of an orange peel (in texture, not color)
  • Itching or pain in the breasts
  • Swollen lymph nodes under the arms or above the collarbone
  • Inverted nipple possibly accompanied by discharge of the nipple
  • Thickened areas of the breast skin

Please note you do not have to have all of these symptoms. Many women only have a few of these symptoms. ANY changes in your breast should be reported as soon as possible to your physician. Also, there may be a lump present in the breast with IBC but more often than not, there is NO LUMP. This is one reason diagnosis is so difficult.

Many physicians will first treat with antibiotics which is standard treatment as an infection is more likely than inflammatory breast cancer. However, if your symptoms do not clear with antibiotics, DEMAND a biopsy.


IBC is very aggressive and as such is diagnosed at a minimum stage of 3B. If it has already spread, it is diagnosed at a stage 4 of four possible stages. You cannot delay in diagnosis or treatment if this type of cancer is suspected.

While mammograms and self breast exams are still highly encouraged, there is typically no discernable lump with inflammatory breast cancer. While these tests can confirm other symptoms (such as thickening), they are generally not used to diagnosis or rule out IBC.

According to an article on MD Anderson’s website, the best way to diagnosis IBC is through a biopsy. Be aware that one negative biopsy does not necessarily mean you do not have this cancer, though it is a good sign. Inflammatory breast cancer grows in sheets in the skin and can be easily missed with a punch biopsy. A surgical biopsy where a larger area of skin and tissue is examined is the best way to diagnosis IBC.


Treatment for IBC can vary based on where you seek treatment and your medical history. Typical treatment is chemotherapy, modified radical mastectomy followed by possibly more chemotherapy and radiation. There are also clinical trials around the country that you can participate in.

About the author: Stacey is an Army wife of a soldier who joined in 2003. He has since been medically retired but she continues to provide information to Army wives and families to make their adjustment to the Army lifestyle easier. Connect with Stacey: Facebook Twitter Pinterest

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Paula Perry September 19, 2017, 12:42 am

    I noticed a couple of weeks ago first that my breast looked like there was red circles inside the breast, not on the outside, then I noticed both my breasts look like a reddish purple color on my skin.They both are not warm or hurt. But I have never known my breasts to look like that. Has anyone ever experienced this? And if so what do I need to do?

    • Stacey Abler September 20, 2017, 12:24 pm

      Please see a doctor. It may be nothing but it’s better safe than sorry!

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