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IBC: a breast cancer that differs from the others


Last updated 8/2/2007 at Noon

Many women remain unaware about one insidious type of breast cancer: inflammatory breast cancer . This highly aggressive yet rare disease is undetectable by a monthly self-breast exams and/or annual mammograms.

“A mammogram cannot pick up because the cell structure is a sheet-like structure versus a tumor,” said Beverly Mangerich, liaison nurse for Scripps Polster Breast Care Center. “It can sometimes show in an MRI.”

A woman typically palpates her breast tissue in search for a nodule during a regular self- exam. IBC masks itself in a different way, so the normal self-check does not detect it.

However, IBC does have its own unique symptoms. These cancer cells block the lymph vessels in the skin, which causes inflammation and warmth in the breast. A woman with IBC will notice that one breast is changing. “The breast will be more tender, more swollen and inflamed,” said Mangerich.

IBC has been known to mimic bacterial mastitis. This area of the breast will be red, hot, tender and swollen. This red mark is immediately thought to be a rash or infected bug bite.

“Physicians often first treat it with antibiotics to see if that takes care of the symptoms,” said Mangerich. If the symptoms do not clear up, it is imperative the patient follow up with her doctor.

A change in the contour of a breast, nipple discharge and thickening of breast tissue may also be symptomatic.

Mangerich pointed out that IBC may not present the same way in every patient. “IBC is a very progressive change, and any breast change should be followed up with your physician,” she advised. Symptoms can occur in a matter of weeks because IBC spreads rapidly.

In advanced cases of IBC, the breast tissue will begin to resemble the skin of an orange.

“Inflammatory breast cancer is a very aggressive breast cancer that comprises one to four percent of breast cancers,” said Mangerich. Unfortunately, only 30 to 50 percent of IBC patients survive the five-year mark.

IBC is generally seen in women in their fifties, but it can attack at any age. Women in their thirties and forties have been diagnosed with this disease.

“We see more prevalent in African-American women,” said Mangerich. The ratio for African-American women is 10.1 percent, whereas for Caucasian women, this drops to 6.2 percent.

The treatment most women receive for breast cancer does not apply to IBC, said Mangerich. When detected, IBC is treated differently in the ducts and lobular areas. Rather than doing surgery first and chemotherapy second, patients with IBC begin their treatment with chemotherapy.

Dr. Anthony Bianchi of Bianchi OB/GYN, with offices in Fallbrook and Temecula, explains that the biggest issue of IBC is that it is a significant killer in terms of the different types of breast cancers. “We don’t have as much of a success rate in IBC unless it is caught early,” he said. Since early detection is the key, it makes annual screening that much more important.

For more information on IBC, contact a physician or log on to the National Cancer Institute (1-800-4-CANCER) at

Symptoms of


Breast Cancer

• Redness •

• Heaviness •

• Swelling •

• Warmth •

• Tenderness •

• Pitted appearance •

• Pinkish and/or purple •

• Increase in breast size •

• Nipple discharge •

• Inverted nipple •

• Swollen lymph nodes •


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