The Inflammatory Breast Cancer

Inflammatory breast cancer is regarded as one of the most severe types of cancer and accounts for about 5% of all breast tumors. This type of breast cancer was first described by Sir Charles Bell in 1814 as “a purple color on the skin over the tumor accompanied by shooting pain” (Mahmoud, 2009, p.2). The phrase inflammatory was first coined by Tannenbaum and Lee in 1924. According to their observations, inflammatory breast cancer seems to bear unique clinical attributes, compounded by rapid development of the disease and moribund prognosis. Inflammation breast cancer (IBC) stands out as one of the most demanding clinical entity. This type of breast cancer is characterized by an exceptionally low rate of survival among the sufferers (Kell & Morrow, 2006, p.67). In addition, inflammatory breast cancer is known to afflict younger people compared to non-inflammatory breast cancer. Symptoms of IBC include skin redness involving over 30% of the breast, breast warmth, swellings on the breast skin, and the skin texture resembling an orange peel. These symptoms emerge when lymph vessels are blocked by cancer cells in the skin (Mahmoud, 2009, p.2).

According to Brun et al, inflammatory breast cancer is a unique type of cancer that accounts for approximately 3% of all breast cancer related cases (1988, p.1009). IBC is a very aggressive type of breast cancer because it spreads expansively to the skin thereby rendering lymph nodes surgical cure irrelevant (Brun et al, 1988, p.1009). As a result, radiation therapy has been used for a long time as the main treatment of inflammatory breast cancer. In spite of the fact that the response rate to radiation therapy has been impressive, the overall results remain the same. It is important to mention that symptoms of IBC are very different from other types of breast cancers. IBC seldom causes breast lumps and a mammogram can fail to detect it. The American Cancer Society recommends that women aged between 20 years and 40 years should commence breast self exam (BSE) and clinical breast exam on a monthly basis (Smith et al, 2002, p.9).

Given the manner in which IBC develops and multiply, it may be difficult to detect a unique lump during self breast-examination, clinical breast examination or even on a mammogram. Nonetheless, symptoms of IBC are easily visible on the skin surface and can be seen during breast self-examination or clinical breast examination. It is worthy to note that IBC symptoms develop extremely fast. Consequently, it is critical that women pay close attention to the appearance of their breast skin and immediately report any changes in skin textures to their physicians. There are several precautionary measures that women can follow to keep IBC at bay (Smith et al, 2002, p.9).

All women aged above 40 years must have a mammogram screening test done on their breast every year. This is an important medical checkup and women must adhere to it even if their health status is good. Women aged between 20 years and 30 years must have a clinical breast exam (CBE) as part of their regular health checkups. It is recommended that the CBE should be done after every three years and by a trained doctor or nurse. For those women aged above 40 years, CBE should be carried out every year by a qualified doctor or nurse. In addition, women (in the 20-30 years age group) have an option to carry out breast self-examination (BSE). Nevertheless, they should be educated on the pros and cons of BSE (Smith et al, 2002, p.9).

Inflammatory breast cancer is diagnosed in various ways. Imaging test is one of them. In many cases, a diagnostic mammogram is the primary test done when an IBC is suspected. In some cases, the tenderness and swellings around the breast may make it difficult to carry out a good mammogram. The mammogram may reveal swellings on the skin of the breast but fail to show any tumor. A breast ultrasound is also used to test for IBC. The ultrasound is usually able to reveal swelling lymph nodes under the arm as well as breast tumors if they exist. Ultrasound is also used to guide a needle for biopsy process. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can also be used to trace tissue abnormalities if the mammogram diagnosis is normal. Another useful test for IBC is known as positron emission tomography (PET) scan. This type of test is usually merged with a computer tomography (CT) scan. PET scan can be used to trace the spread of cancerous cells in lymph nodes and other tissues (Smith et al, 2002, p.10).

Biopsy is another common medical procedure used to test for IBC. It usually entails getting a sample of breast tissue and analyzing it using a microscope. It is worthy to mention that self and clinical breast examinations may reveal inconclusive results for IBC. However, a biopsy is able to give a conclusive result about the existence of cancerous cells in the body. There are several ways to carry out breast biopsy. These include incisional or excisional biopsy and vacuum-assisted biopsy. The method used is determined by the region affected and who finds it. For instance, biopsy for inflammatory breast cancer usually entails MRI assistance (Kell & Morrow, 2006, p.72).

In spite of the fact that major progress has been made in terms of screening for inflammatory breast cancer, numerous challenges still exist. There is an urgent need to create awareness about the importance of regular checkups for IBC among vulnerable groups. In addition, healthcare providers must be ready to share the potential benefits and limitations of IBC screening methods with their patients.


Brun et al. (1988). Treatment of Inflammatory Breast Cancer with Combination Chemotherapy and Mastectomy versus Breast Conservation. Cancer, 61, 1096- 1103. Web.

Kell, M.A., & Morrow, M. (2006). Surgical Aspects of Inflammatory Breast Cancer. Breast Disease, 22, 67-73. Web.

Mahmoud, M.A. (2009). Inflammatory Breast Cancer: An Essay. Cairo, Ain Sham University. Web.

Smith et al. (2002). American Cancer Society Guidelines for the Early Detection of Cancer. Cancer Journal for Clinicians, 52, 8-22. Web.

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