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Inflammatory Breast Cancer Symptoms

Inflammatory Breast Cancer Symptoms All Women Should Know

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Updated March 05, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) is an aggressive, rare type of breast cancer that produces symptoms that are different from the more common types of the disease. Unlike other breast cancers, IBC symptoms may not always appear first with a breast lump, debunking a popular myth that all breast cancers cause lumps.

IBC accounts for an estimated 1 percent of diagnosed breast cancer cases, according to the American Cancer Society; however, the disease may be more prevalent than we think, as cases may not have been accurately reported, according to the society.

Inflammatory Breast Cancer Symptoms

  • inverted nipple
  • orange peel-like appearance on or around the breast or dimpling of the skin
  • breast that is warm to the touch
  • breast that is itchy
  • painful or sore breast
  • sudden increase in breast size
  • change in color of breast; darker, red or bruised
  • nipple discharge

Changes in appearance of the breast can be sudden in cases of IBC. It is important to report these changes to your doctor promptly. Do not wait for symptoms to go away or get better. Because of its aggressive nature, early detection is absolutely critical.

Even though IBC symptoms may not always appear first with a breast lump, lumps can be a symptom of other types of breast cancer. (Read more about breast lumps.)

Mastitis and Inflammatory Breast Cancer Symptoms

Unfortunately, the symptoms of IBC are similar to the symptoms of mastitis, a breast infection that is most often seen in breastfeeding women. However, while fever and a high white blood cell count are typical with mastitis, they aren't tell-tale signs of inflammatory breast cancer.

If you are being treated for mastitis and are not responding to antibiotics after seven to 10 days, you should consider talking to your doctor about ruling out other conditions and screening for IBC. Your doctor may refer you to a breast specialist for screening.

What to Do If You Have Symptoms of Inflammatory Breast Cancer

You should know that inflammatory breast cancer might not be detected during ultrasonography or mammographic screening. If you are experiencing the symptoms of IBC, tell your doctor right away. Just because a recent mammogram did not find any abnormalities does not mean that cancer is not present.
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