Inflammatory breast cancer can be a difficult medical condition. But with the right information and support, patients can take the steps needed to start treatment early. This will improve their chances of remission.
What is inflammatory breast cancer?
Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) is an aggressive and rare type of cancer that appears as a rash on the affected region of the breast.
The breast contains lymph vessels which drain out excess fluid from the body. In inflammatory breast cancer, these lymph vessels are blocked by cancerous cells. This results in inflammation and a textured appearance of the skin on the breast.
It is estimated that between 1% and 5% of all breast cancers diagnosed account for inflammatory breast cancer.
Symptoms and signs of inflammatory breast cancer
Inflammatory breast cancer signs and symptoms can differ slightly from other breast cancers. For one, patients don’t get a lump in their breasts when they have this condition.
Instead, the symptoms that do show up resemble that of a rash or infection. It is due to this unusual characteristic that some patients don’t realise they may have breast cancer.
Inflammatory breast cancer causes the following signs and symptoms:
- Enlargement/swelling of the breast
- Thick, textured and discoloured skin
- Pitting or dimpling of the skin
- Inverted nipple
- The breast is hard-to-the-touch
- Swelling in the lymph nodes (typically in the armpit or under/above the collarbone)
- Pain in the breast
If any of these symptoms are experienced, it is imperative to visit a doctor right away. Quick intervention can help patients recognise signs of inflammatory breast cancer and get on a treatment plan immediately.
Main causes/risk factors for inflammatory breast cancer
Inflammatory breast cancer can occur in people of all gender. The likelihood of getting this type of cancer increases based on factors like:
- Gender: While men can get this cancer, it is most common in cisgender women and female-bodied individuals.
- Age: Although inflammatory breast cancer can occur at any age, it most often affects younger individuals below the age of 40. Typically, the median age for making the IBC diagnosis is 57 years.
- Body weight: It has been found that fat tissues in the body produce greater amounts of oestrogen. It is because of this that a person who is overweight or obese is at a higher risk of cancer.
Inflammatory breast cancer signs and symptoms can also thus be noticed more often in people who are obese.
- Race: Research shows that inflammatory breast cancer symptoms are more common in people of African, Indian/Pakistani and Hispanic descent.
How is inflammatory breast cancer diagnosed?
IBC diagnosis starts at home when patients notice breast tenderness, inflammation or redness. At the CK Birla Hospital, our doctors will use a combination of diagnostic methods to confirm the diagnosis:
- Breast exam: A physical breast examination is conducted to feel for any lumps. This will rule out IBC if lumps are found.
- Imaging tests: The imaging tests we may order include a breast ultrasound, a mammogram or a breast MRI. These tests will show any tissue abnormalities in the breast.
The physical exam and imaging tests can demonstrate if there is a suspicion of IBC. But, for a confirmed diagnosis, a biopsy of the affected tissue is usually performed.
- Biopsy: During the biopsy, the tissue is tested for specific protein or gene mutations, which can tell us about the severity of the cancer. Additionally, it provides information that helps us make treatment decisions.
The entire diagnosis is usually completed within a few days’ time. Once the report is available and IBC is confirmed, our oncologists will sit with the patient to review their medical history and create a treatment plan.
Inflammatory breast cancer: Stages
Inflammatory breast cancer is a rapidly progressing disease that starts out as Stage III cancer visible on the skin. The goal is to identify the early signs to prevent the cancer from progressing to Stage IV.
To identify which stage the IBC is at, our doctors may recommend one of the following tests:
- CT scan of the chest
- Bone scan
- PET scan
Stage 3 inflammatory breast cancer life expectancy depends on how quickly the treatment is provided.
Additionally, the patient’s lifestyle, existing medical history, and age also matter. Based on research, the 5-year relative survival rate for IBC is between 19% and 54%.
Ultimately, the remission and survival rates differ from patient to patient. Our oncologists will be able to give the patient the right information during their consult.
Treatments available for inflammatory breast cancer
When the IBC is caught at Stage III, it will still be restricted to the patient’s breast and will not spread outside. Treatments will be more effective at this time, and chances of remission will be higher, leading to longer life expectancy.
Common inflammatory breast cancer treatments include:
- Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is a common treatment used for various types of cancers. A special combination of drugs will be administered, specifically targeting IBC cells.
Depending on the treatment plan, the chemotherapy may be given either in pill form or intravenously. It may be administered prior to or after surgery.
- Surgery: There are two types of surgery that can be performed when treating inflammatory breast cancer:
- Lymph nodes removal: Here, lymph nodes which are blocked by the cancerous cells are surgically removed.
- Mastectomy: If the IBC has spread throughout the breast, you may need a mastectomy, where the entire breast and surrounding tissues will be removed. This will prevent the spread of cancer to other parts of the body.
- Hormone-blocking therapy: In some IBC cases, the cancer uses the body’s hormones to progress. These types of IBCs are called progesterone receptor-positive (PR-positive) and oestrogen receptor-positive (ER-positive) cancers.
In hormone-blocking therapy, certain drugs are used to stop the body’s production of oestrogen or progesterone to prevent the spread of cancer.
- Radiation therapy: In this treatment, radiation is used to kill cancer cells. The energy beams are targeted and controlled, so they hit only the cancer cells and not the surrounding tissues.
- Targeted drug treatments: The specific proteins or gene mutations identified during the biopsy will be targeted and treated using specific drugs. This helps alleviate some of the abnormalities occasionally found in the breast tissues of IBC patients.
- Immunotherapy: This treatment is used to strengthen the patient’s immunity, helping their body fight off cancer and heal.
Many of these treatments are used in combination to help treat inflammatory breast cancer.
When fighting cancer, awareness is the most effective cure. Spotting cancer can be tough, but regular breast examination and conscious awareness will help identify it at a stage when it can be removed without causing a bigger damage, both physically and emotionally.
An inflammatory breast cancer diagnosis can be safely and effectively managed, allowing patients to regain their quality of life.
At the CK Birla Hospital, our oncologists have immense experience treating patients diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer. At our dedicated breast centre in Gurugram, our specialists will closely monitor your medical history and requirements and create a treatment plan designed to help you towards cancer remission.
Visit us or contact Dr Rohan Khandelwal today to schedule a consultation.