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Quick Dose: What Is Inflammatory Breast Cancer?

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Inflammatory breast cancer is a rare but aggressive type of cancer. It is called “inflammatory” because the breast often looks swollen, red or inflamed.

This type of breast cancer accounts for one to five percent of all breast cancer cases diagnosed in the United States, and progresses rapidly, often within weeks or months. When a woman is diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer, it is either stage III or IV.

In addition to swelling and redness of the breast, the skin may have ridges or appear pitted like the skin of an orange. Other symptoms may include a rapid increase in the size of your breast, burning or tenderness in the breast and an inverted nipple. You may also have swollen lymph nodes under your arm or near the collarbone.

Inflammatory breast cancer can be difficult to diagnose. There may not be a lump that can be felt, and many women who are diagnosed have dense breast tissue, which makes it more difficult to detect abnormalities. This type of cancer can arise quickly, even between screening mammograms. It may also be mistaken for an infection of the breast or another type of breast cancer.

Like other types of breast cancer, inflammatory breast cancer can occur in men, but it is very rare.

-John D. Ayers, MD, Northwestern Medicine Regional Medical Group, Oncology

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