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Breast cancer types

There are several different types of breast cancer. To determine an appropriate approach to treating the disease, your doctor will first evaluate the specifics of the breast tumor, including:

  • If the disease has spread beyond the breast
  • The type of tissue where the disease began

Inflammatory breast cancer

Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) is a rare type of breast cancer often starts in 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 may become firm, tender, itchy, red and warm due to increased blood flow and a build-up of white blood cells. This type of cancer is distinct from other types, with major differences in symptoms, prognosis and treatment.

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 similarities in 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 typically diagnosed when it is already in an advanced stage, most often 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 more about advanced treatments for breast cancer.

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The many types of breast cancer

Infographic Types Breast Cancer

Breast cancer isn't just one disease, but many different diseases, all with their own behaviors, molecular compositions and side effects. Understanding the differences between the various subtypes may help demystify a complex disease.