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Diagnosis and Treatment of Inflammatory Breast Cancer

  • With inflammatory breast cancer, cancer cells block the lymph vessels of the skin of the breast, causing the breast to appear red or inflamed. Unlike other types of breast cancer, IBC may be detected without a lump.

    Symptoms of IBC may include:

    diagram of five different kinds of IBC symptoms

    If you experience any of these symptoms, contact your physician immediately. IBC is typically diagnosed through a clinical exam, and confirmed with a breast biopsy. Prompt and accurate diagnosis and treatment is important because of the aggressive nature of the disease.

    We schedule your appointment with a dedicated team of medical, surgical, and radiation oncologists as soon as possible. Our multidisciplinary team reviews all diagnostic imaging and coordinates further imaging or biopsies as needed to ensure that the best information is available for diagnosis. Prompt and accurate diagnosis is very important because IBC can spread quickly.

  • Treatment of IBC

    If a diagnosis of IBC is confirmed, the clinical team works together to develop a specialized treatment plan for you. Because IBC involves the entire breast and blood stream, the primary treatment is chemotherapy. This may include clinical trials or the option to receive standard treatments.

    Once we have achieved the best response possible from chemotherapy, we often recommend surgery in the form of a mastectomy. Since IBC involves the lymphatic system — special blood channels that encompass the entire breast — a mastectomy is the only way to remove the majority of the cancer. Radiation therapy can then address any residual cancer left behind in the chest wall or lymph nodes. Sometimes additional chemotherapy or hormone therapy is also recommended.

    While women with other forms of breast cancer may opt for breast reconstruction immediately following a mastectomy, we recommend that IBC patients delay reconstruction until after radiation treatment to ensure that any residual cancer cells have been eradicated.

    IBC specialists coordinate your care with pharmacy, nutrition, social workers, pain management specialists and other support services to ensure that you feel as good as possible throughout your treatment.

    Support Services

    Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women's Cancer Center (DF/BWCC) provides a wide range of support programs and resources for our patients with IBC. These programs and resources can help you and your family address issues that you may face as a result of your cancer, or its treatment. Below are some of our selected programs and services.

    Counseling and Social Work
    Our licensed social workers are here to help adult patients and their loved ones face the many new concerns and anxieties following a diagnosis of IBC, offering emotional support and assistance with obtaining needed resources.

    Pain and Palliative Care
    The Adult Palliative Care Division of the Psychosocial Oncology and Palliative Care Department at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women's Cancer Center helps patients with IBC live as well as possible while facing a serious or life-threatening illness. Palliative care consultations are readily available if you are suffering from uncontrolled pain, nausea, vomiting or other symptoms, or if you have questions about how palliative treatment can help you meet your personal goals.

    Friends' Place
    Friends' Place provides personal consultations to help cancer patients of all ages cope with changes in physical appearance that result from cancer treatment. Our experienced, compassionate team provides fittings for compression garments or breast prostheses, helps with wigs and other head coverings, and offers make-up and skincare advice.

    Zakim Center for Integrative Therapies
    Integrative therapies, also known as complementary therapies, range from acupuncture and massage to nutritional guidance and music therapy. Patients treated at the Zakim Center credit its services with easing nausea, improving circulation, and reducing pain, stress, and anxiety associated with cancer treatment.

    Nutrition Consultation
    Our nutritionists are registered dietitians who can assist you in planning an optimal diet during any stage of your cancer journey, cope with any side effects you may experience, and answer your questions about the latest findings on cancer and nutrition.

    Spiritual Care
    Through all stages of IBC treatment and survivorship, our Spiritual Care staff is available 24 hours a day to provide emotional and spiritual support for patients and their family members.

    For a full list of our support services, you can download the Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women's Cancer Center Supportive Resources brochure.