Inflammatory breast cancer is called so because in this cancer the breast appears to be red and swollen. This swelling can be attributed to blocked lymph vessels which are due to the cancer cells. It is known to start in the milk ducts of the breast and then it invades the surrounding tissue. It is a rare diagnosis with an incidence percentage of 1 to 5% among all breast cancers. This cancer is though aggressive in nature and is often detected and diagnosed in last stages when it has already invaded the surrounding collar bone, armpits lymph nodes and other tissue.
It is commonly diagnosed in younger women as compared to other types of breast cancer, in the mean age of 57 and is more common in African women. In western continents it is even diagnosed at much later age. This inflammatory breast cancer is predominantly known to affect the obese women. It is quite rare in men though it affects them at a mean age of 57. Most of the times this cancer is confused with an infection and results in delayed diagnosis and poor prognosis.
Also as the lymph vessels are blocked, and lymph is not able to flow under the arm, near the collarbone, or in both places swollen lymph nodes may also be present.
As there is no physical evidence along with any other symptoms in the early stages, diagnosis of inflammatory breast cancer can be difficult. Even a mammogram (X-ray of breast) does not give conclusive results as the women have non-fatty (dense) breast tissue making the mammogram screening useless. This is an aggressive cancer with symptoms that can be confused with an infection thus leading to delayed diagnosis. Invasive biopsy is done wherin tissue is removed from the site for pathological examination. Biopsy always give conclusive results. To understand the extent and stage PET/CT and bone scans may be done. Also for an improved prognosis, tests to assess whether the breasts are hormone and HER2 receptor positive or negative are also undertaken.