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Not all types of breast cancer present as a lump in the breast. A rare form of cancer that may not be detected by physical examination or mammogram is the inflammatory breast cancer. Learn more about its signs and symptoms.

Most women believe that breast cancer may be detected through its common warning signs that usually consist of a lump or a bloody nipple discharge. The lump may be felt by physical examination or detected through an imaging technique such as a mammogram.

However, there is one type of breast cancer where a lump may not show either on physical examination or on a mammogram. This may make it more difficult to detect the disease and delay its treatment.

About Inflammatory Breast Cancer

IBC or inflammatory breast cancer is an uncommonform (1-5%) of cancer of the breast that is quite aggressive compared to other types of the disease.

Unlike other more common types of breast cancer, IBC does not manifest as a palpable lump, which one can detect through self-breast examination.

Furthermore, it often does not show up on a mammogram, an imaging exam that provides an x-ray picture of the breast and is often used to screen for the disease.

The American Cancer Organization reports that most women who develop breast cancer are diagnosed when they are older (at an average of about 57 years old), but those who develop IBC tend to have it at an earlier age (about 52 years). African-Americans are more likely to have it than are white women.  Overweight or obesity also increases women’s risk of developing the disease.

IBC tends to grow and spread more aggressively than other common types of breast cancer.

However, because of its atypical features it is often more difficult to recognize and women are less likely to report it early.

Signs and Symptoms

If inflammatory breast cancer does not show on breast examination of mammograms, how will one recognize the disease? The signs and symptoms of IBC are typical of an inflammatory process, as its name implies.

Women with inflammatory breast cancer will initially notice swelling and reddening of their breast instead of feeling a lump. They may also experience breast warmth, ridging, and thickening of the breast skin.

Their skin may look and feel like an orange peel and their nipple may become flattened or inverted. They may feel some pain, tenderness, and itching, which are also felt by women who develop mastitis.

This is one reason why women sometimes do not think of cancer and mistake these symptoms for acute inflammation associated with mastitis. Since mastitis is a more common condition, especially in pregnant and lactating women, doctors may treat these women with antibiotics.

However, IBC symptoms tend to worsen within days or sometimes, even hours. It is therefore important to recognize these symptoms and to seek prompt treatment. Women who do not improve with antibiotic therapy must be further evaluated for IBC.

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