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September 2010, Volume 40 Number 9 , p 58 - 62


  • Lisa Morris MSN, RN


MOST WOMEN are familiar with breast cancer that's diagnosed after they notice a lump or mass. But they may not know that another kind of breast cancer isn't usually associated with a distinct breast lump: the rare but extremely aggressive form known as inflammatory breast cancer (IBC).1In IBC, cancer cells obstruct lymphatic vessels in the breast, causing erythema and edema.1 This article discusses the signs and symptoms of IBC, as well as its risk factors and treatment options. First, consider who's affected.Only 1% to 5% of new breast cancer cases in the United States are classified as IBC.2–5 Compared to other breast cancer types, IBC is often diagnosed in younger women; the mean age for IBC diagnosis is 58.8 years, compared to 66.2 years for locally advanced breast cancer.4Because IBC is likely to have metastasized at the time of diagnosis, it's characterized by a lower survival rate compared with that of non-IBC breast cancer.2,6IBC's dismal 5-year survival rate of 25% to 50% has remained unchanged for over 30 years.1,4 Its survival rate stands in stark contrast to the average survival rate for all breast cancer types, 75%, and for early-stage, non-IBC, 90%.4 The median survival time for patients diagnosed with IBC is only 37 months.5Race, ethnicity, and gender also appear to play a role in IBC. See Other factors at play in IBC.The American Joint Committee on Cancer describes the appearance of IBC as "diffuse erythema and edema of the breast that arises quickly, often without an underlying palpable mass."5 According to a panel of leading IBC experts, the minimum clinical diagnostic criteria for IBC include the four points outlined below:2 * rapid onset of breast erythema, edema and/or peau d'orange (resembling the skin of a navel orange, swollen with dimples), and/or warm breast, with or without an underlying palpable mass3 * duration of history of 6 months or less * erythema involving at least one-third of the

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