Inflammatory breast cancer is the rarest and most deadly of the breast cancers. It strikes young women as often as older women, breastfeeding mothers as often as grandmothers, and women with and without a history of breast cancer in their family. It does not always form a lump in the breast. Instead, it forms in sheets and nests in the lymphatic system of the skin, appearing only after it clogs the lymph system with cancer, causing the skin to swell and turn red as if in anger.
Sometimes, it appears first as a mark like a bug bite, or a bruise that just won’t heal. Sometimes, the texture of the skin changes first, becoming tough, hard, or with little dimples like an orange peel. Sometimes, it feels thick to the touch, or hot, or just … different.
Inflammatory breast cancer is often misdiagnosed as mastitis, especially in nursing women. The important thing to know is, if you are diagnosed with mastitis and it doesn’t clear up with 10 days of antibiotics, SOMETHING ELSE may be wrong. Please, please go back to your OB/GYN or other health care professional and talk to her again. Ask her for tests to rule out inflammatory breast cancer. Tell her that you’re worried, that something just isn’t right. Insist on futher tests and a skin and/or core biopsy. Because each week that you delay is a week that this cancer will grow and expand and be just that much harder to eradicate.
Survival rates for women diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer are grim. Only 25 to 50 percent of women will survive five years. Believe it or not, this is a HUGE improvement over the survival statistics of just a few years ago — when only 1-2% could expect to be alive five years after diagnosis. Even with chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation, 90% of women will suffer a recurrence. This is a lifelong battle for those that are diagnosed, and it is a very difficult disease to battle, as it’s one of the few cancers that are obvious on the surface of the body; as it marches across a woman’s breast, it is very hard to watch.
For more information, please visit:
- The National Cancer Institute;
- The Mayo Clinic;
- The Inflammatory Breast Cancer Research Foundation;
- The Inflammatory Breast Cancer Association;
- The Inflammatory Breast Cancer Foundation;
- The Susan G. Komen Foundation’s Fact Sheet on IBC;
- The Young Survival Coalition’s page on IBC; and/or
- The KOMO-TV piece, with video and followup posts.
There are a few blogs out there from IBC survivors as well. Check out what these other women have to say about living with IBC:
- Virginia, NED for 15 years!;
- IBC Blog and Links;
- Other Survivors;
Edited 9/26 to add: There is new hope — just today — for HER-2 positive cancers. We need this research. This is saving lives.