What to know about inflammatory breast cancer
Inflammatory Breast Cancer
The term inflammatory breast cancer refers to a form of breast cancer that affects about 1 to 5 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer. This type of cancer usually presents itself differently than the rest of the disease. Symptoms include pain, swelling, and redness in one or both breasts. These symptoms are caused by the spread of cancer cells into nearby tissues. There is no known cure for inflammatory breast cancer. However, early detection and treatment can improve outcomes.
Signs and symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer
Inflammatory breast cancer (also known as IBC) is a rare type of invasive breast cancer that affects both breasts. This form of breast cancer usually develops within three to six months of initial diagnosis, and is characterized by rapid growth and spread of tumor cells. These tumors are often difficult to detect during mammography.
The signs and symptoms of IBC include:
• Swelling (edema), redness, and tenderness of the skin of the affected breast(s).
• Retracted or inverted nipples.
• Hard lump under the skin of the breast.
• Painful discharge from the nipple.
• Skin changes that resemble an open sore.
• Breast pain that does not go away.
Because of the aggressive nature of IBC, treatment options may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, hormone therapy, immunotherapy, targeted therapies, and/or biologic agents.
How is inflammatory breast cancer diagnosed?
Imaging tests are often used to diagnose IBC. These tests include mammography, ultrasound, MRI, CT scan and PET/CT scans. Mammograms are usually performed during a regular checkup. Ultrasound is most commonly used to evaluate whether there is fluid buildup around the tumor. A biopsy may be needed to confirm the diagnosis.
MRI is useful because it provides detailed images of the breast tissue. This helps doctors determine how much tissue needs to be removed. In some cases, MRI is combined with a contrast agent called gadolinium, which highlights areas where tumors grow. Contrast agents like gadolinium can cause allergic reactions in people who are sensitive to them. People who receive chemotherapy sometimes develop kidney problems that require dialysis.
PET/CT scans use radioactive materials to highlight certain parts of the body. They can show how well the drugs work against the disease.
Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC), also called inflammatory carcinoma of the breast, is a type of aggressive breast cancer that begins in the milk ducts of the breast. It usually starts in the upper outer quadrant of the breast and spreads quickly into surrounding tissues. There are about 2,500 cases per year in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society.
A biopsy is a procedure where cells are removed from a part of the body for examination under a microscope. A needle is used to take tiny samples of tissue from inside the breast. These cells are sent to a laboratory to look at under a microscope.
The most common way to diagnose IBC is to do a core needle biopsy, which removes a sample of the tissue from the breast without cutting open the breast. In some situations, a surgical biopsy is needed.
In many cases, a mammogram or ultrasound scan will find signs of inflammation in the area of the breast where the tumor is located. If you think you have IBC, talk to your doctor about whether you should have a biopsy. You may want to consider having a mastectomy, or surgery to remove the entire breast, to prevent spreading of the disease.
Tests on biopsy samples
Women who undergo a needle biopsy to check for signs of breast cancer often find out whether they have invasive cancer — meaning it has spread beyond the milk ducts into nearby tissue and possibly lymph nodes — within weeks. But doctors still don’t know why some women experience rapid growth of tumor cells and others do not. Now researchers say they’ve developed a way to identify those patients most likely to develop aggressive disease. “We’re trying to figure out what makes one woman grow rapidly while another doesn’t,” says Dr. David Egan, chief medical officer of the American College of Surgeons. “This is something we haven’t been able to answer.”
The study involved 516 women undergoing a needle biopsy because of suspicious mammograms. Researchers found that about half had tumors that grew quickly, based on how fast the tumor cells divided during the initial stages of growth. About 20% of the women had tumors that didn’t grow very fast. And 30% of the women had no evidence of cancer.
They compared the characteristics of the three groups of women to see if there were differences in the types of genes expressed in each group. They found several patterns of expression among the different subtypes of breast cancers. For example, they found that women with estrogen receptor positive tumors tended to express genes associated with cell division, while women with triple negative tumors tended to express genes related to inflammation.
What is a 5-year relative survival rate?
A relative survival rate compares women who have the same type and stage (also called clinical stage) of breast cancer to women who do not have the disease. This helps us understand how well treatment works for different types of breast cancers. We want to know whether treatments work better for some people compared to others.
The 5-year relative survival rates tell us how many breast cancer patients survive at least 5 years, given what we already know about their disease. The larger the number, the better the survival rate. The smaller the number, the worse the survival rate.
For example, if the 5‑year relative survival rate is 90% for a particular type of breast cancer, it means that out of every 10 women with that type of breast cancer, 9 survived at least 5 years. If the 5-year relative rate is 50%, it means that half of the women with that type of cancer died within 5 years.
Relative survival rates vary depending on the type of breast cancer and where it is found. They also change over time because advances in medicine allow doctors to treat diseases earlier and help patients live longer.