Inflammatory Breast Cancer: uncommon & concerning

RENO, Nev. (KOLO) - Breast cancer patient Linda Craig leads a breast cancer support group.
She says each meeting is unique and never the same.

USAF / Tiffany Trojca / MGN

That's because there are different kinds of breast cancers and different kinds of treatments.

“When you talk to a survivor, their story is always different than yours, their treatment is different,” says Linda.

Linda’s support group is comprised mostly of women of color.
Chances are in this group more women know about Inflammatory Breast Cancer.

That's because this type of breast cancer develops more in African American women than white women.

But it also develops in younger women, those 40 years and younger who typically turn up in an emergency room complaining of breast swelling, redness, pitting, and thickening of the skin.

“They will present to the emergency room, urgent care, primary physician, and be diagnosed with Mastitis or an infection of the breast,” says surgeon Dr. Frieda Hulka. “Because many of these women are breast feeding or in the time frame of being able to have babies,” she says.

Dr. Hulka says in some cases, patients are given a course of antibiotics to clear up the infection.

But, in Inflammatory Breast Cancer, the pills will have no impact.

That's when Dr. Hulka says diagnostic tools come into play. But it is not a mammogram as you might think.

“A mammogram may not show this because it is not a lump,” says Dr. Hulka. “It is the whole breast. Ultrasound can help. Sometimes an MRI may help actually. But usually it is just seeing the patient and doing a biopsy to see what is going on,” she says.

If it is Inflammatory Breast Cancer, patients are put on chemotherapy first in hopes of shrinking the tumor, followed by surgery to remove the breast.

Dr. Hulka says in many cases by the time the patient sees a physician the cancer has spread to another part of the body.

More chemotherapy may follow after surgery, followed by medication which blocks hormones.

The patient can expect to be on that medication for five to ten years.

Fewer than 200,000 cases are diagnosed each year.

The best advice, if you’ve been treated for a breast infection, but your signs and symptoms persist, even after antibiotic treatment, contact your doctor, and talk to him or her about Inflammatory Breast Cancer.

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