Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC)

Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC), or invasive breast cancer, is a type of breast cancer in which cancer cells affect the lymph system in the breast. 

According to the National Cancer Institute, IBC is rare, accounting for only about one to five percent of all breast cancers, and it's an aggressive type of breast cancer that progresses rapidly.

IBC is treated at the Abramson Cancer Center, within the Rena Rowan Breast Cancer Center and within the Integrated Breast Center at Pennsylvania Hospital.

Symptoms of Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC)

IBC can be difficult to diagnose because it typically does not present with a tumor or lump in the breast that can be felt or seen on a mammogram. Instead, IBC makes the skin of the breast red and feel warm much like an infection on another part of the body. These symptoms will prompt your physician to order further diagnostic testing.

IBC may start as invasive ductal carcinoma, which is a type of breast cancer that starts in the ducts of the breast and spreads to other breast tissue.

Symptoms of IBC include:

  • Redness and swelling of the breast (which may develop rapidly)
  • Change in the skin texture on the breast, ridging of the skin, or peeling of the skin on the breast
  • Warmth, or hot feeling on the breast
  • Changes in the breast shape
  • Breast or nipple pain
  • Discharge from the nipple
  • Nipple inversion
  • A lump
  • Thickening of the nipple skin

Although unusual, IBC may be discovered on a mammogram before presenting any symptoms.

Staging for IBC

Because inflammatory breast cancer by definition is locally advanced, its staging begins at Stage IIIB.

Stage IIIB

The tumor meets clinical criteria for inflammatory carcinoma (diffuse redness and enlargement of the breast, skin ridging, peau d’orange [a change in the skin texture that appears similar to the skin of an orange):

  • It has not spread to the lymph nodes.
  • It has spread to one to three axillary lymph nodes and/or tiny amounts of cancer are found in internal mammary lymph nodes on sentinel lymph node biopsy.
  • It has spread to four to nine axillary lymph nodes, or it has enlarged the internal mammary lymph nodes.

Stage IIIC

The tumor is any size (or can't be found), hasn't spread to distant sites and one of the following applies:

  • Cancer has spread to 10 or more axillary lymph nodes.
  • Cancer has spread to the lymph nodes under the clavicle (collar bone).
  • Cancer has spread to the lymph nodes above the clavicle.
  • Cancer involves axillary lymph nodes and has enlarged the internal mammary lymph nodes.
  • Cancer has spread to four or more axillary lymph nodes, and tiny amounts of cancer are found in internal mammary lymph nodes on sentinel lymph node biopsy.

Stage IV

The cancer can be any size and may or may not have spread to nearby lymph nodes. It has spread to distant organs or to lymph nodes far from the breast. The most common sites of spread are the bone, liver, brain or lung.