Almost everyone knows someone who has experienced breast cancer as well as some who have succumbed to the disease. Detecting cancer in the early stages increases the odds a woman (or man) survives this illness. 

Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC)

Some women may not know there is an especially aggressive form of breast cancer called inflammatory breast cancer (IBC.) This is an uncommon kind of breast cancer, developing speedily, causing the affected breast to turn red, tender and swollen.

This cancer occurs when cancer cells obstruct the lymphatic vessels in the skin covering the breast, leading to red, swollen breasts.

Inflammatory breast cancer has spread from its point of derivation to close by tissue and perhaps to neighboring lymph nodes, which means it is a “locally advanced cancer.”

Keep an eye on your breasts. Check them regularly to see if there are any noticeable changes. Whenever breast skin varies this can signify cancer. 

Dimpling

Dimpling is the characteristic indicator of IBC. Dimpling indicates a growth is pulling on the adjoining tissue and on the skin located directly above the growth, which creates hollow areas, such as slight depressions, or creases in the skin (dimpling.) 

Dimpling can also be the result of other medical conditions including a breast abscess, mastitis, trauma, duct obstruction, inflammation of the fatty tissue in the breasts and fat necrosis. So don’t panic but don’t ignore it either. 

Breast Infections

Some women erroneously think they have a breast infection – which ensues when there is infected tissue (mastitis) – when, in fact, they have cancer. 

Infections in the breast happen when bacteria enters the body through a fissure in the skin, typically on the nipple. 

When a woman suffers from a breast infection she will experience flu-like symptoms (nausea and vomiting) and fever as well as itching, pain and lumpiness in the breast, breast enlargement, tenderness, warmth and redness, alterations in nipple sensation, swelling, discharge from the nipple and tender or enlarged lymph nodes on the side of the infected breast.

Erythema

One condition that can occur is erythema, which means redness of the breast skin caused by the widening of superficial small blood vessels, the result of inflammation or fever. Lesions appear. They are surrounded by red rings, referred to as a target, bull’s eye or iris. Small, fluid-filled blisters called bullae can also turn up. 

Photosensitivity (reaction to sunlight) can cause erythema as can an infection or medication that makes a person’s sensitivity to ultraviolet radiation more extreme. 

IBC

When it is not an infection but inflammatory breast cancer this causes a breast to become demonstrably thick, heavy and enlarged. The skin on the nipple may become crusty or swollen and the nipple may invert (turn inward.)

Orange Peel Skin

A condition called Peau d’orange is a warning of advanced breast cancer. The breast skin thickens and becomes pitted. The orange peel appearance is the outcome of swelling (edema) around the deep hair follicles on the breast. 

Other Symptoms

When suffering from IBC, the woman experiences pain, aching and tenderness in her breast. The breast’s appearance may transform, becoming discolored and changing to red, pink or purple or appear to be bruised. The breast may feel warm to the touch. 

Look at your nipples. If the areola (skin surrounding the nipple) has changed color this is an indication of inflammatory cancer.

Feel your lymph nodes above and below the collar bone and under the arms. Are they enlarged?

Paradoxically, women suffering from this aggressive form of cancer may not have any lumps detected in a mammogram. 

Treatment

Because IBC is so hard-hitting and quick spreading, it is usually not diagnosed until it is in an advanced stage. Patients are stereotypically treated with chemotherapy, surgery – which is either a total mastectomy or breast-conserving surgery – and radiation. Further treatment may incorporate additional chemo and hormone therapy. 

Hormone therapy is a systemic therapy adding, blocking or removing hormones from the body. The goal is to slow or stop altogether the growth of cancer cells, according to Cancer Treatment Centers of America.

Hormones are considered the body’s chemical messengers. They are manufactured in the endocrine glands (the thyroid, ovaries, testicles and pancreas.) Hormones can prompt the growth of cancers or can be used to slow, stop and even kill cancer cells

Do not hesitate to contact your physician if you are experiencing any of the above mentioned symptoms. 

Cindi Pearce is a graduate of Ohio University, where she received a bachelor’s degree in journalism back in the dark ages (aka before computers, the Internet and cell phones. Heck, before electric typewriters!) A former newspaper writer/columnist and photographer, her fiction and non-fiction work has been published in national magazines. A full-time freelance writer, as well as an avid gardener, an artist and yoga aficionado, Cindi is a Baby Boomer and proud of it. She has survived the gnarly challenges of the sandwich generation and lived to tell the tale. Cindi has somehow managed to stay married to her first and only husband for nearly 35 years. They are the parents of three grown children and the grandparents of one. She has five large, raucous dogs, five acres to mow on her beloved zero turn mower, and gets the biggest kick out of making people laugh on Facebook. (P.S. She refuses to cut her hair short.)