(Lexington Co.) - Inflammatory Breast Cancer, or IBC, is a rare and aggressive form of breast cancer that often goes undetected by mammograms.
While research varies, the majority of studies suggest IBC cases make up one to five percent of all breast cancer cases.
For decades, educational efforts about breast cancer have focused on mammograms and self-breast exams. Women should be looking for more than just a lump, though, because IBC symptoms usually include one or more of the following:
- Change in breast size over a short period of time
- Itching or pain in the breast
- A red-looking rash or peau d'orange (coloration and texture resembling the skin of an orange)
- Thickening of the skin
- Nipple flattening or retraction
- Nipple discarge
- A breast that is warm to the touch
- A breast that is firmer than usual
Health officials at Palmetto Health Richland's Comprehensive Breast Center say anyone with these symptoms should immediately see a doctor. Because the symptoms often mimic infection in the breast, doctors will likely first treat the patient with a round of antibiotics. If the symptoms do not disappear, a biopsy will likely then be done to determine whether it is Inflammatory Breast Cancer.
Frequently Asked Questions About IBC:
Q: Isn't there always a lump with breast cancer?
A: No. Since IBC grows in the lymphatic cells just below the skin, there is often no defined lump. Instead, IBC tends to grow in sheets.
Q: Do only older women get IBC?
A: No. In fact, the average age of IBC patients is less than the average age of 'standard' breast cancer patients. However, IBC can strike at any age and can also impact males.
Q: How is IBC diagnosed?
A: Because many of the symptoms are similar to those present in a breast infection, doctors will commonly treat the symptoms with a round of antibiotics. If the symptoms continue to persist, doctors will usually do a biopsy to determine if it is IBC.
Q: Will my annual mammogram detect IBC?
A: Not always. Because there is likely no defined tumor, the mammogram will have a hard time detecting IBC. Typically, women must bring their symptoms to the attention of their doctor who may choose to do a biopsy for the diagnosis.
Q: Is IBC treated the same as other breast cancers?
A: No. While surgery is usually the first step with breast cancer, IBC patients will have chemo first and then follow-up with surgery.
Irmo nanny Kathy McCray has been living with IBC for four years and first knew something was wrong when she noticed changes in her right breast.
"It just stayed where my breast was hard and firm and it just wasn't right," McCray said. "I knew something wasn't right. And that's when I went to my doctor."
Within a matter of days, McCray was told she had IBC. According to the IBC Research Foundation, the disease kills half of its patients in the first five years and is almost always fatal within ten years.
"It still didn't register that it could be cancer because I didn't have any lumps," McCray said about the initial shock of the diagnosis.
These days, a double mastectomy and repeated rounds of chemotherapy and radiation are a constant reminder of the reality.
Medical Oncologist Robert Smith works at South Carolina Oncology Associates where McCray is treated, and says educational efforts have long ignored this rare form of breast cancer.
"In our talks about educational aspects and early diagnosis of breast cancer, we tend to employee breast self-exam and mammography and don't talk about inflammatory cancer because it's just not the first thing on people's minds," Dr. Smith said.
He hopes that will change, though, and is encouraging women to look for more than just a lump in their monthly self-exam.
"Not only is she looking for a lump, she's looking for swelling, redness, tenderness, adema in the breast. A woman needs to be aware of that so if there's anything that changes in the breast she can seek medical advice early," Dr. Smith said.
McCray also encourages women to not be embarrased by the findings.
"Once you get over that period of denial, don't let it last too long. Because during that period of time anything could happen. You could be taking days off your life," McCray said.
For more information on inflammatory breast cancer, click one of the following links:
Inflammatory Breast Cancer Help and Support
Inflammatory Breast Cancer Association
Inflammatory Breast Cancer Research Foundation
Inflammatory Breast Cancer Memorial Site
Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation
National Cancer Institute Fact Sheet
American Cancer Society