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Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC)

Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) is a rare cancer requiring a precise diagnosis and aggressive treatment. The specialized providers at the Abramson Cancer Center have expertise in every type of breast cancer. We understand the nature of IBC and provide you with the innovative and effective treatment you need.

What Is Inflammatory Breast Cancer?

IBC is a rare and aggressive invasive cancer affecting the skin of the breast. It accounts for one to five percent of all breast cancer cases. IBC may grow and spread (metastasize) more quickly than other types of breast cancer.

The risk factors associated with IBC differ from other types of breast cancer. IBC tends to be diagnosed in younger women and also affects men. African American women are at a higher risk for IBC, as are women who are overweight or obese.

Inflammatory Breast Cancer Symptoms

The first signs of IBC are not typical breast cancer symptoms. IBC rarely includes a distinct breast lump. Instead, women with IBC may notice reddening and/or swelling of the breast as cancer cells block lymph vessels in the skin. The signs of IBC may be mistaken for an infection. But these symptoms do not respond to antibiotics and typically worsen quickly. Indicators of IBC include:

  • Breast swelling (edema)
  • Discoloration or redness of breast skin on more than one-third of the breast
  • Dimpling or thickening of skin resembling an orange peel
  • Retracted or inverted nipple
  • Tenderness, warmth, pain or itchiness in the breast
  • Lymph node swelling in the armpit or near the collarbone

Diagnosing Inflammatory Breast Cancer

Since IBC does not cause a breast lump, it may not show up during routine breast cancer screening. Often, IBC is not diagnosed until symptoms appear. If your physician suspects cancer, breast imaging and a biopsy may confirm a diagnosis of IBC.

At the time of diagnosis, IBC is typically identified as stage III, but may be considered metastatic breast cancer (stage IV) if cancer cells have spread outside the breast. One out of every three cases of IBC are stage IV at the time of diagnosis. Learn more about breast cancer staging and diagnosis.

Why Choose the Abramson Cancer Center for Inflammatory Breast Cancer?

Our specialized breast cancer team knows how to care for rare breast cancers such as IBC. Our in-depth cancer knowledge translates to accurate diagnosis and innovative breast cancer treatment. At the Abramson Cancer Center, you’ll find:

  • Advanced imaging: Our expert radiologists rely on the newest breast imaging technology, such as 3D mammograms and breast MRI, to diagnose IBC quickly.
  • Comprehensive care: We provide personalized care for every stage of breast cancer. Our breast cancer research program gives you access to the newest treatments for IBC and metastatic breast cancer.
  • Wide-ranging support: Our integrative oncology and cancer support services supplement your treatment. We provide relief and assistance when you need it most.
  • World-class care close to home: For your convenience, we offer breast cancer care at many Penn Medicine locations. Specialists across the network collaborate to provide you with the best possible treatment.

Our Approach to Inflammatory Breast Cancer Treatment

We understand the complexity of an IBC diagnosis. To address this aggressive form of breast cancer, we get you the care you need as soon as possible. Your multidisciplinary breast cancer team creates a treatment plan that is both personalized and effective. Treatment may include standard treatments and innovative new therapies for IBC, such as: