Breast cancer comes in many forms. One of the rarest forms is inflammatory breast cancer (IBC). Characterized by skin changes (including redness) and enlargement of the breast area, IBC can often be confused with locally advanced breast cancer (LABC) and regular mastitis of the breast. Unlike other cancers, IBC does not typically have palpable breast mass. Young women who have a high incidence of positive lymph node involvement may be particularly susceptible to inflammatory breast cancer. Because of the rare and swift nature of IBC, the overall survival rate is approximately 40 percent at five years.
The cause of IBC is unknown, however, early detection is important, as IBC typically arises in three months or less. LABC differs in that it arises over a longer period of time, usually greater than three months. While dermal lymphatic involvement is uncommon with LABC, it’s not unheard of. This leads to confusion between LABC and IBC. Another distinguishing feature of LABC is a noticeable, palpable tumor, or breast mass that can be detected. Patients also tend to be older and lymph node involvement may or may not be increased.
Even among cancer specialists, the difference between inflammatory and locally advanced breast cancer can be hard to distinguish. However, it is important to remember that mastitis responds well to antibiotics; with this in mind, if mastitis continues after two weeks of antibiotic use, or does not respond to the antibiotic treatment, the situation should be considered as a possible case of IBC. In order to get a more definitive diagnosis, a punch biopsy of the skin must be conducted.
Should you be concerned about LABC and IB, or have additional questions about their differences, consult your physician.