Inflammatory breast cancer is rare and has some unusual warning signs that many women don't realize can signal the disease.
Experts at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center shared those symptoms, raising awareness about this aggressive and deadly type of breast cancer.
Symptoms are similar to those of a breast infection. They include an orange peel-like texture or dimpling of skin, a feeling of heaviness, tightening of the skin, engorgement of the breast and infection-like redness.
“Women should know that radical changes to the breast are not normal, and breast self-exams are still very important. Some 50% of inflammatory breast cancers are diagnosed as stage 4 disease,” said Dr. Ko Un Park, a surgical oncologist who leads a new Inflammatory Breast Cancer Program at the center. “It is important for women to recognize changes in both the appearance and feel of their breasts so that changes can be discussed quickly with a physician.”
Inflammatory breast cancer can occur in any part of the breast. It can even be confusing for doctors who typically don't think of a red breast as signaling cancer.
“Although inflammatory breast cancer only represents 1% to 5% of all breast cancers in the United States, it is a sneaky disease and challenging to diagnose," Park said in a cancer center news release. "It is critical that clinicians have a high level of familiarity with its subtle signs and be prepared to take immediate action to avoid belated diagnosis.”
Park and breast radiologist Dr. Amy Kerger are helping lead a team that will triage and rapidly respond to potential inflammatory breast cancer cases. The team is also working with primary care doctors and obstetricians/gynecologists to bring more awareness to this particular form of breast cancer.
“Our goal is to push these patients to the front of the line, rapidly mobilizing a treatment plan so that therapy can begin as soon as possible,” Park said.
Ohio State also surveyed 1,100 U.S. women ages 18 and up to find out what women know about cancer. While 78% of respondents recognized a lump as a sign of breast cancer, only about 44% thought of redness as a symptom, the same percentage who would flag pitting or thickening of the skin as a warning sign. About 34% were aware that one breast feeling warmer or heavier than the other could be a sign.
The survey was conducted online Sept. 22 to 26 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points.
The American Cancer Society has more on inflammatory breast cancer.
SOURCE: Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, news release, Oct. 12, 2022