Symptoms Of Breast Cancer
Breast cancer may not cause any signs or symptoms in its early stages. Signs and symptoms often appear when the tumour grows large enough to be felt as a lump in the breast or when the cancer spreads to surrounding tissues and organs. Other health conditions can cause the same symptoms as breast cancer.
The most common symptom of ductal carcinoma is a firm or hard lump that feels very different from the rest of the breast. It may feel like it is attached to the skin or the surrounding breast tissue. The lump doesnt get smaller or come and go with your period. It may be tender, but its usually not painful. .
Lobular carcinoma often does not form a lump. It feels more like the tissue in the breast is getting thicker or harder.
Other symptoms of ductal and lobular breast cancer include:
- a lump in the armpit
- changes in the shape or size of the breast
- changes to the nipple, such as a nipple that suddenly starts to point inward
- discharge that comes out of the nipple without squeezing it or that has blood in it
Late signs and symptoms occur as the cancer grows larger or spreads to other parts of the body, including other organs. Late symptoms of breast cancer include:
- bone pain
Inflammatory Breast Cancer And Pain Relief Methods
All cancers are known to be extremely painful and many patients find this pain unbearable than the cancer itself. Giving pain relief is one of the most important treatment methods adopted for all stages of cancer as the pain could worsen with the advancement of cancer.
Pain can also be initiated with treatment methods like chemotherapy and radiation. However, much depends on the individual and his/her ability to withstand pain.
Some people report only mild pain and others report pain that is excruciating and unimaginable. Pain associated with inflammatory breast cancer is not much different from other forms of cancers. Therefore, pain relief is essential at some stages of the disease and treatment.
Incidence Rates Of Inflammatory Breast Cancer
The rarity of inflammatory breast cancer means that large progressive research studies are few and far between.
Hence, the level of progress and knowledge for IBC does not match that of other types of breast cancer.
The incidence rate of IBC varies from country to country and amongst different ethical groups. However, the general incidence rate of IBC is only around 1% to 5% of all newly diagnosed breast cancers in American women.
According to one medical study, the incidence of IBC is higher in North African countries, particularly Algeria, Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco.
In the above mentioned African countries, incidence rates are between 10% and 15%. In comparison, the lowest incidence rates of IBC are in North America.
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Treating Inflammatory Breast Cancer
Inflammatory breast cancer that has not spread outside the breast is stage III. In most cases, treatment is chemotherapy first to try to shrink the tumor, followed by surgery to remove the cancer. Radiation and often other treatments, like more chemotherapy or targeted drug therapy, are given after surgery. Because IBC is so aggressive, breast conserving surgery and sentinel lymph node biopsy are typically not part of the treatment.
IBC that has spread to other parts of the body may be treated with chemotherapy, hormone therapy, and/or targeted drugs.
Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.
American Joint Committee on Cancer. Breast. In: AJCC Cancer Staging Manual. 8th ed. New York, NY: Springer 2017:589.
Curigliano G. Inflammatory breast cancer and chest wall disease: The oncologist perspective. Eur J Surg Oncol. 2018 Aug 44:1142-1147.
Hennessy BT, Gonzalez-Angulo AM, Hortobagyi GN, et al. Disease-free and overall survival after pathologic complete disease remission of cytologically proven inflammatory breast carcinoma axillary lymph node metastases after primary systemic chemotherapy. Cancer. 2006 106:10001006.
National Cancer Institute. Inflammatory Breast Cancer. 2016. Accessed at https://www.cancer.gov/types/breast/ibc-fact-sheet on August 30, 2021.
What Are The Early Signs And Symptoms Of Inflammatory Breast Cancer
Unlike more common types of breast cancer, this type generally doesnât show up as a lump. The disease grows as nests or sheets under the skin.
Symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer may include:
- Pain in the breast
- Skin changes in the breast area. You may find pink or reddened areas often with the texture and thickness of an orange.
- A bruise on the breast that doesn’t go away
- Sudden swelling of the breast
- Itching of the breast
- Swelling of the lymph nodes under the arm or in the neck
These changes often happen quickly, over a period of weeks.
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How Is Inflammatory Breast Cancer Diagnosed
Inflammatory breast cancer can be difficult to diagnose. Often, there is no lump that can be felt during a physical exam or seen in a screening mammogram. In addition, most women diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer have dense breast tissue, which makes cancer detection in a screening mammogram more difficult. Also, because inflammatory breast cancer is so aggressive, it can arise between scheduled screening mammograms and progress quickly. The symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer may be mistaken for those of mastitis, which is an infection of the breast, or another form of locally advanced breast cancer.
To help prevent delays in diagnosis and in choosing the best course of treatment, an international panel of experts published guidelines on how doctors can diagnose and stage inflammatory breast cancer correctly. Their recommendations are summarized below.
Minimum criteria for a diagnosis of inflammatory breast cancer include the following:
- A rapid onset of erythema , edema , and a peau d’orange appearance and/or abnormal breast warmth, with or without a lump that can be felt.
- The above-mentioned symptoms have been present for less than 6 months.
- The erythema covers at least a third of the breast.
- Initial biopsy samples from the affected breast show invasive carcinoma.
Imaging and staging tests include the following:
What Can Skin Changes On The Breast Mean
It can be scary to spot a change in your breasts, but if you notice that the skin of your breast is red, swollen, or warm, theres usually no reason to worry. Breast skin can be quite sensitive, so there are lots of common conditions and causes for breast skin changes, and the vast majority are not too much of a concern.
Some of the most common causes include:
Although most of the causes of a rash on the breast arent much to worry about, its important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of more serious conditions.
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When To Seek Medical Attention
Pain, discomfort, and minor changes to the breasts arent always an indication of IBC. Sometimes, they can be due to another underlying condition.
However, since IBC is aggressive, early diagnosis and treatment are important. If you have any of the symptoms mentioned above or have noticed any abnormal changes to your breasts, consult with a doctor as soon as possible.
One of the most important ways to prepare for your appointment is by keeping track of symptoms youre concerned about. If possible, write down notes about:
- when the symptoms began
- how the symptoms feel
- anything else your doctor might need to know
After you and your doctor have reviewed your symptoms, they will likely perform a physical exam and review of your medical history to determine if there are other reasons for your symptoms.
Its likely that your doctor will also want to perform diagnostic testing, which may include:
What Is The Outlook For People Diagnosed With Inflammatory Breast Cancer
The outlook for people diagnosed with IBC depends on several factors including age and overall health, the extent to which the cancer has spread, and the timing of the diagnosis. In most cases, the earlier the diagnosis and sooner treatment begins, the better the prognosis.
Outcomes are usually best in patients who receive what is called trimodal treatment that involves chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation. After treatment, patients should follow up with their doctors to keep an eye on recurrence of breast cancer.
But because IBC is aggressive, it has a worse prognosis than most other types of breast cancer. Whats more, because it progresses rapidly, it is often diagnosed after the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes or distant parts of the body, which make effective treatment more difficult.
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Sudden Change In Breast Size
IBC can change the appearance of the breasts. This change can occur suddenly. Because this cancer can cause inflammation and swelling, breast enlargement or thickness can occur.
The affected breast may appear noticeably larger than the other breast or feel heavy and hard.
If youve always had symmetrical breasts and you notice a sudden increase or decrease in the size of one breast, speak with your doctor to rule out IBC.
You may be familiar with the fact that there are different stages of breast cancer. These stages are used to reflect how far the cancer has progressed.
- Stage 3. In stage 3 IBC, the cancer has spread to some of the tissues surrounding the breast. This can include nearby lymph nodes, the skin of the breast, and the tissues of the chest wall.
- Stage 4. In stage 4 IBC, the cancer has spread to more distant areas of the body, such as the lungs, liver, or bones. This is called metastasis. According to the ACS, its estimated that IBC has metastasized in
diagnostic criteria for IBC include:
- breast redness, swelling, dimpling, or warmth that comes on quickly, with or without a detectable lump or mass
- redness that includes at least a third of the breast
- symptoms that have lasted for no longer than 6 months
- confirmation of the presence of cancer cells through a biopsy
Now lets explore the diagnostic methods that can be used for IBC in a little more detail.
Does Breast Pain Increase Breast Cancer Risk
Though it’s uncommon, there are some painful breast conditions that may raise your risk of developing breast cancer. Both radial scars and multiple or complex fibroadenomas increase your risk of breast cancer Many breast conditions which cause pain pose little to no increased risk of breast cancer. Duct ectasia does not increase the risk of developing breast cancer, and while simple fibroadenomas do not increase the risk of breast cancer, complex fibroadenomas only slightly increase the risk.
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Breast Pain Not Linked To Periods
Its often unclear what causes non-cyclical breast pain.
It can be related to:
- a benign breast condition
- previous surgery to the breast
- injury to the breast
- having larger breasts
- a side effect from a drug treatment, such as certain antidepressant drugs and some herbal remedies such as ginseng
Stress and anxiety can also be linked to breast pain.
Non-cyclical breast pain may be continuous or it may come and go. It can affect women before and after the menopause.
The pain can be in one or both breasts and can affect the whole breast or a specific area. It may be a burning, prickling or stabbing pain, or a feeling of tightness.
Non-cyclical breast pain often goes away by itself over time. This happens in about half the women who experience it.
What Is The Prognosis For People With Inflammatory Breast Cancer
IBC usually develops quickly and spreads to other tissues outside the breast. Early diagnosis and treatment are key to managing the condition as effectively as possible.
Doctors use a system made up of four stages to diagnose all types of cancer. IBC is stage III or stage IV when it is diagnosed.
Because IBC is aggressive, and because it is found later than other cancers, the outlook for people with this condition is generally not as good as for other types of breast cancer. Still, some people have lived many years after an IBC diagnosis. Your doctor can explain your individual prognosis to you.
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How Is Ibc Treated
- Recommendations for chemotherapy cycles average six cycles over a span of four to six months.
- Radiation therapy is generally given five days a week for five to six weeks.
The goal of chemotherapy for breast cancer is to shrink the tumor or tumors as much as possible before surgery so the oncologist can surgically remove as much cancer as possible. If your cancer is HER2-positive, you may also undergo a targeted therapy. If your hormone receptor status was positive, your provider may suggest hormone therapy.
A mastectomy is usually indicated for people with IBC, and if your provider finds cancer in the lymph nodes, these organs may be surgically removed as well. Many people with IBC have radiation therapy following surgery. Its possible to have breast reconstruction, but because radiation therapy is so important in IBC, its recommended to wait until after your radiation is finished.
Consider getting a second opinion or even several opinions to be sure youre comfortable with your surgical team and that youre getting the information you need to make a decision thats right for you.
Why Is Inflammatory Breast Cancer More Aggressive
Inflammatory breast cancer is not just in the skin. It may be scattered throughout the breast parenchyma . The migratory/invasive nature of IBC allows it to invade the skin and produce the visual symptoms of IBC. The reasons why IBC is more aggressive than non-IBC are not well understood. Molecular studies on just tumor cells has failed to identify reproducible gene expression differences, leading to the hypothesis that IBC may be more aggressive because of the role of the tumor microenvironment . These are being actively studied, so that in the future these factors may be targeted or used as early diagnostic markers.
Are there any genetic markers for inflammatory breast cancer?
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Clinical Symptoms Of Inflammatory Breast Cancer
The Symptoms include:-
- Skin Changes: Patches of skin on the breast appear red or pink in color, or appear bruised
- The texture of the affected area of the breast may also change and appear dimpled or pitted, a little like the skin of an orange
- Itchy breasts: Itchiness around the affected area can occur
- Swelling of the breast: You may notice that one breast is larger than the other
- Breast pain: The affected breast may be tender, painful or feel heavier
- The breast feels hot to the touch or there can be a burning sensation
- Ridges or welt like marks may appear on the skin
- Inverted nipple, dimpling or flattening of the nipple
- Nipple Discharge
- Swollen lymph nodes under the arm or in the neck
Women with inflammatory breast cancer will typically present to a physician with a rapidly progressing, firm, tender, and enlarged breast. If you have even a small patch of inflamed, red skin on breast self-exam it is important to see your physician straight away.
Notably, women with inflammatory breast cancer will tend not to have a fever. Because it is a cancer that spreads very rapidly into and around the breast tissue, women with IBC might present with axillary adenopathy . This can be a sign that cancer has spread .
Causes And Risk Factors
Researchers aren’t sure what causes IBC specifically, but some risk factors have been identified, including:
- Gender: Though IBC affects both women and men, women are more likely to be diagnosed with this type of breast cancer than men.
- Age: IBC is more common in younger people .
- Ethnicity: Black women are at a greater risk for developing IBC than White women.
- Weight: People who are overweight or obese have a slightly increased risk of IBC, but it can impact people of average weight as well.
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What Are The Signs Of Inflammatory Breast Cancer
Signs of inflammatory breast cancer can develop quickly and may include:
- the breast looks red or inflamed or develops a rash it often looks as if its infected or bruised
- the breast becomes swollen and enlarged and may feel heavy or uncomfortable
- the breast feels warm and tender
- skin on the breast can appear dimpled or pitted, like an orange peel.
Some people may also have a lump in their breast or armpit, pain in the breast or nipple, discharge from the nipple or a nipple that turns inwards .
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When To See A Health Care Provider About Changes To The Skin Of The Breast
Even though breast skin changes usually dont mean anything serious, it’s important to know when you might actually need medical attention.
If wearing more breathable fabrics avoiding soaps and detergents that cause skin sensitivity and keeping your breasts clean and dry doesnt seem to help with the skin changes youre seeing, or if you notice your symptoms worsening, be sure to check in with a health care provider. And be sure to visit a health care provider if you notice any of these accompanying symptoms:
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