Inflammatory breast cancer is a rare and rapidly developing cancer that affects the breasts. This form of breast cancer can cause rapid changes in the appearance of the breast over the course of several weeks, including enlargement of the breast, discoloration (red, purple, pink, or bruised appearance), dimpling or ridges on the skin of the affected breast (similar to an orange peel), and flatting or turning inward of the nipple. Symptoms can also include breast tenderness, pain or aching, enlarged lymph nodes under the arm, as well as a thickness and heaviness to the breast. In some cases, there may be an unusual warmth in the affected breast.
The exact cause of inflammatory breast cancer is unknown. Like all forms of cancer, inflammatory breast cancer starts with a mutation (change) within the DNA of a cell within the breast. Because of this genetic change, this abnormal cell then grows and divides faster than it should, causing a blockage of the vessels that filter and transport fluids away from breast tissue (lymphatic vessels). This blockage and buildup of fluid causes the red and swollen appearance of the breast. Risk factors for inflammatory breast cancer include gender (woman are diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer more than men), ethnicity (black women have a higher risk), weight (obesity increases the risk of cancer), and age (the older you are, the higher your risk for inflammatory breast cancer).
A doctor can diagnose inflammatory breast cancer by performing a physical exam, collecting images of the breast (using a mammogram (breast X-ray) or breast ultrasound), and removing a sample of tissue for testing (biopsy). Treatment of inflammatory breast cancer can include chemotherapy (chemical treatment), surgery, radiation therapy, and hormone therapy. It is important to talk to your doctor if you or someone you know has been diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer to determine the best treatment plan.