Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) is a unique type of breast cancer that often starts within the soft tissues of the breast and causes the lymph vessels in the skin of the breast to become blocked. As a result, the breast can become firm, tender, itchy, red, and warm due to increased blood flow and a build-up of white blood cells.
Inflammatory breast cancer, or IBC, is rare, accounting for one to three percent of all breast cancers. This type of cancer is distinct from other types, with major differences in symptoms, prognosis, and treatment.
IBC occurs when cancer cells block the lymph vessels in the skin. As a result, the breast can become firm, tender, itchy, red, and warm due to increased blood flow and a build-up of white blood cells. The term “inflammatory” refers only to the appearance of the breasts. When breasts become inflamed due to an infection or injury, they often become tender, swollen, red, and itchy. However, the underlying cause of IBC is unrelated to inflammation.
Because of the similar symptoms, IBC may at first be diagnosed as a breast infection, such as mastitis. However, although antibiotics will resolve a breast infection, they cannot treat IBC. If your doctor prescribes antibiotics and your symptoms do not resolve within seven to 10 days, this may be a sign that you have IBC.
IBC tends to grow quickly and aggressively, and is usually diagnosed when it is already in an advanced stage, typically stage IIIB or stage IV.
Inflammatory breast cancer treatment options
Treatment of inflammatory breast cancer typically includes chemotherapy, followed by surgery (breast-conserving surgery or total mastectomy) and radiation therapy. Additional therapy, such as hormone therapy and/or additional chemotherapy, may also be given.
Learn about breast cancer symptoms