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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.

  • Rapid response and follow-up

    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. We can help coordinate your breast imaging and a clinical evaluation, which may include a biopsy. Prompt and accurate diagnosis and treatment is important because of the aggressive nature of the disease.

    If you are diagnosed with IBC, we will 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 treatment planning.

    If you have not been diagnosed yet, our IBC specialists at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center work quickly to determine whether your symptoms are IBC, or something else (such as a breast infection). If a diagnosis of IBC is determined, your dedicated team of IBC clinicians will work together to create and oversee a personalized treatment plan, based on your specific disease.

    IBC nurses and staff will connect you with support services both on-site and in your community. Through this coordinated approach, your entire clinical team will work with you, not only to treat your IBC, but also to provide support every step of the way.

    Treatment of IBC

    Our physician-scientists lead research efforts that are changing the understanding of IBC and creating new options for treatment. Experience affects outcomes. Our clinical team is skilled at identifying this rare and often misdiagnosed disease, ensuring that you receive the care you need as quickly as possible. 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, sometimes in combination with other medications. This may include clinical trials for IBC 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 cancer in the breast and lymph nodes under the arm (axilla). Radiation therapy may be used following surgery to address any residual cancer left behind in the skin or lymph nodes. Sometimes additional chemotherapy, hormone therapy, or other medications are recommended after surgery.

    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.

    If your IBC has spread to other parts of the body, such as bone, liver, or lungs (known as metastatic cancer), your treatment may still require chemotherapy or other drugs that work throughout the body as well as on the IBC in the breast. Mastectomy and radiation therapy may not be needed but can be beneficial for some women with IBC. Our specialists will work with you to develop a treatment plan based on your specific disease as well as your goals and values.

    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.