Is it just a rash or inflammatory breast cancer? | Norton Healthcare Louisville, Ky.

Is it just a rash or inflammatory breast cancer?

This rare breast cancer can appear as a minor rash

Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) is form of breast cancer that often can be mistaken for a rash, allergic reaction or minor infection. Although it is aggressive and fast-growing, it is rare, accounting for 1% to 5% of all breast cancers.

Symptoms of IBC

Because the signs of IBC mimic those of an injury, skin rash or infection, the cancer often is not detected until it is advanced or has spread to other parts of the body. With IBC, the cancer cells block the lymph vessels, causing them to appear inflamed. Symptoms include:

  • Swelling, redness, or heaviness in one breast
  • Purple- or red-colored skin on the breast
  • Dimpling or thickening of the breast skin, often compared to an orange peel
  • Breast pain, tenderness or itching
  • Swollen lymph nodes under the arms or near the collarbone
  • Changes in the nipple such as pulling inward or swelling

Diagnosis and treatment

When a patient has the symptoms listed above, the doctor will usually try antibiotic treatments first. But if the symptoms do not get better in a week or so, it might mean IBC. IBC is not affected by antibiotics.

The next test may be breast imaging or biopsy, where a small sample of tissue is taken and sent to a lab. If cancer is present, the doctor may have more tests done, including a computed tomography (CT) scan, mammogram or bone scan. IBC is is a fast-growing cancer so the doctor may want to see if it has spread to other parts of the body.

It is important to treat this cancer as soon as possible. The possible treatment path might look like this:

  • First, cancer-shrinking medicines, called chemotherapy, are given.
  • A mastectomy may be the next option. During this surgery, some lymph nodes are removed with the breast tissue.
  • Radiation treatment can be given after surgery to the chest and armpit areas.
  • Following a mastectomy, the doctor may prescribe more chemotherapy, hormone therapy or radiation therapy.

Breast Health
Breast Health

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