Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) is a rare and more aggressive type of breast cancer. It is different in its outlook and treatment. Inflammatory breast cancer early signs and symptoms are also different with a typical breast cancer.  IBC symptoms are caused by the blockage of cancer cells in lymph vessels in the skin. In the previous article I already discussed this and you can read it here Characteristics of Breast Cancer Lumps and Inspection Methods.

This cancer has only 40% of survival rate in five years. It’s important to recognize some inflammatory breast cancer early signs and consult a doctor soon if you notice some changes in your breast.

Inflammatory Breast Cancer Early Signs, Causes, and Risk Factors

What makes inflammatory breast cancer different include:

  • The symptoms of IBC often don’t cause a lump and don’t look like a typical breast cancer.
  • It might not show up on breasts. This makes it hard to diagnose.
  • It tends to attack young women (below the age of 52).
  • IBC tends to occur in women with obesity.
  • IBC risk is more common among African-American women than white women.
  • IBC is more aggressive and spread more quickly than a typical breast cancer.
  • When it is first diagnosed, it is at a locally advanced stage.
  • In several worse cases, it has spread to other parts of the body when it is diagnosed. This condition makes it more difficult to cure successfully.

Inflammatory Breast Cancer Early Signs and Symptoms

Since IBC is an aggressive type of cancer, it can develop rapidly within months, weeks, and even days. Therefore, it is really important to receive an early diagnosis. Though you usually don’t have a breast lump, there are several inflammatory breast cancer early signs and symptoms to beware of.

  1. Breast Pain

Your breast may look and feel different due to the inflammation. It might feel warmer when you touch it. You might also have tenderness and pain in your breast. In several conditions, wearing bra may be really painful if it has been severe. In addition to the tenderness and pain, IBC causes persistent itch in the breast, especially in the areas around the nipple.

  1. Lymph Nodes Swelling

IBC causes swollen lymph nodes, usually under arms or above the collarbone. If you suspect this swelling, consult a doctor immediately.

  1. Breast Dimpling

Skin dimpling in the breast is one of the inflammatory breast cancer early signs.   When you do a breast self-check and found the skin texture is similar to peeled orange, you should beware of it. Go to the doctor to undergo several medical exams.

  1. Nipple Appearance Changes

Nipple shape change can be another sign of inflammatory breast cancer. Nipple might retract inside the breast or become flat. Do a pinch test to ensure if the nipples are inverted or flat. It will help to determine whether you need to undergo medical exams immediately. Squeeze the area around the areola with your thumb and index finger. A flat nipple will not move forward or backward. The inverted nipple will retract into the breast due to the pinch.

However, inverted nipple or flat nipple are normal for some women and don’t mean it is a sign of inflammatory breast cancer. On the other hand, if your nipples are normal before and suddenly change into inverted or flat, you need to beware and consult the doctor immediately.

  1. Breast Discoloration

One of the early signs of inflammatory breast cancer is breast discoloration.  A small section may look like a bruise that appears purple, red, or pink. Some people might think it is not something serious. Whereas, breast redness is a classic inflammatory breast cancer symptom.

  1. Breast Swelling

Due to the inflammation, the breast will be swollen and looks larger in appearance. Thickness, hardness, and heaviness may occur as well. But some women may experience breast shrinkage. If your breasts used to have symmetrical size and suddenly one of them increase or decrease, consult the doctor immediately to have it diagnosed.

If you have one or any of the above signs and symptoms, you might think you have inflammatory breast cancer. It is really important to know that IBC symptoms can be really similar to a breast infection or mastitis. Mastitis is more common in women who breastfeed, though it is also possible to occur in women who don’t breastfeed. If you are breastfeeding and experience nipple discharge, fever, and headache, 80 % you don’t have IBC. It is possibly mastitis.

It is confusing enough to recognize IBC and mastitis symptoms, especially if you are breastfeeding. Therefore, don’t ever diagnose it by yourself. Consult the doctor to have it diagnosed whether you have IBC or mastitis.

How Inflammatory Breast Cancer Begins

Though there are many types of research about IBC conducted, it is still not clear what causes IBC. It can be explained that IBC begins with the growth of an abnormal cell in the breast’s vessel. The DNA of abnormal cell mutates and leads it to develop and spread rapidly. These abnormal cells then accumulate, infiltrating and clogging the lymphatic vessels in your breast. The blockage causes inflammatory breast cancer early signs and symptoms as explained.

Risk Factors

There are several major factors that increase the risk of IBC. Being a woman, black race, and being obese are the risk factors. All women have a higher risk factor of IBC than men, though men can develop IBC as well. Black women are at the higher risk of IBC than are white women. People with obesity have a greater risk of IBC than those with normal weight.

Treatment for Patient with IBC

If the doctor diagnosed the signs you experience are inflammatory breast cancer early signs, more imaging tests and treatments will be ordered. The treatments for IBC include chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation therapy. Early diagnosis and treatment increase your chances to beat this disease.

Living with breast cancer is not easy. Seek mental support to cope with this disease while undergoing medical treatment since the recovery procedure will “drain” emotions. Besides seeking support from family and friends, joining a support group for cancer survivors and patients will help to strengthen you.  Having breast cancer means not only physical strength but also mental strength and spirit.