How to recognize the symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer


Not all breast cancer involves a lump. There is a rare, but serious form known as inflammatory breast cancer whose symptoms are unique. Dr. Anne Moore, a leading breast oncologist, describes the symptoms and treatment for inflammatory breast cancer.

How to recognize the symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer

Inflammatory breast cancer and Paget's diesase have recently received a lot of attention. Here’s what you need to know about these rare forms of cancer.

Inflammatory breast cancer

  • Only 1 out of 100 new breast cancer diagnoses are for inflammatory breast cancer.
  • Inflammatory breast cancer doesn’t present as a lump or on a mammogram.
  • Symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer include soreness, redness and swelling. It looks like an infection of the breast, similar to an infection some women get after nursing a baby.
  • Women may experience pain and swelling in one area, or in the entire breast.
  • Initially many doctors mistakenly treat inflammatory breast cancer as an infection. But if it doesn’t improve after a week or two of antibiotics, inflammatory breast cancer is suspected.
  • Inflammatory breast cancer is most often found in younger women, but it is found in older women, as well.
  • Treatment for inflammatory breast cancer usually involves chemotherapy to shrink the tumor and surgery to remove it, followed by radiation and sometimes hormone therapy.
Paget's disease
  • Another rare form of breast cancer is Paget’s disease. Unlike inflammatory breast cancer, Paget’s disease is a very early form of breast cancer that occurs in the ducts of the nipple and will often present itself as a rash around the nipple. It will often respond to cortisone, but tends to come back. So, any rash around the nipple should be looked at by a dermatologist. Surgery is the usual course of treatment for Paget’s disease.
For more information go to or call the Susan G. Komen for the Cure helpline at 1-800-IM AWARE.
Transcript RENE:  Hello, I’m Rene Syler, an ambassador for Susan G Komen for the cure, and I’m someone who believes we really all need to take responsibility for our breast health. Both, my mother and father had breast cancer, and I was diagnosed with my own breast disease in 2003. Resulting ultimately in a prophylactic mastectomy in 2007. Joining me now is Dr. Anne Moore; she is the medical director of the breast oncology program at wow Cornell medical college. And she is here to talk about a rare and aggressive from of breast cancer. Inflammatory breast cancer. Dr. Moore thank you for joining us.

ANN:  Thank you Rene.

RENE:  Can you tell us exactly what inflammatory breast cancer is cause it seems we’re hearing a lot about it lately?

ANN:  Inflammatory breast cancer is a rare form of cancer, its only one out of a hundred of newly diagnosed women have it. It doesn’t present as a lump or as an abnormal mammogram, but a woman will feel a sort of soreness, redness and some swelling in the breast. It looks like an infection in the breast. Such as some women will get after nursing babies. And other the doctor will think that’s what it is and treat the patient with antibiotic. When things don’t get better after a week or two, then we become suspicious that the disease is inflammatory breast cancer.

RENE:  You mention swelling, is the whole breast swollen, or just that area? And is there pain associated with this?

ANN:  There might be some pain, some soreness, the whole breast may be swollen, or just part of the breast.

RENE:  Is there a particular group that’s more susceptible to this type of cancer? Young women?

ANN:  You see inflammatory breast cancer in young women, but we can certainly see it in older women also.

RENE:  This is one of a couple different types of breast cancer that we hear a lot about that are on the rare side. Paget’s disease also, what is that?

ANN:  Paget’s disease is sort of the other side of breast cancer, a very very early form of breast cancer; it just shows up in the ducts of the nipple. And the woman will have a little rash around the nipple. Sometimes it actually gets better with Cortisone, but then it tends to come back.  Any rash around the nipple should be looked at by a Dermatologist.

RENE:  What is the treatment for inflammatory breast cancer, and Paget’s disease for that matter?

ANN:  Well the treatments are very different. Paget’s disease the treatment is surgery. And that usually will cure women with Paget’s disease. With inflammatory breast cancer we learned surgery alone is not enough treatment. But if we approach the patient with chemotherapy first, let the tumor shrink, then we do surgery, then we do radiation therapy. Sometimes we follow with hormone therapy. And many women today with inflammatory breast cancer are cured of the disease.

RENE:  And the prognosis is good in terms of reoccurrence or anything like that?

ANN:  If they have an excellent response to treatment the prognosis nowadays is good.

RENE:  Thank you Dr. Moore. For more information you can visit the Susan G Komen for the cure website at or you can call their help line at 1 (800) IM AWARE. I’m Rene Syler.
meet theexpert
  • Dr. Anne Moore

    Dr. Anne Moore Oncologist Dr. Anne Moore, Professor of Clinical Medicine at Cornell University. She is listed in "The Best Doctors in America" by American Health Magazine, and has been honored with numerous awards for her encouragement and support of women with breast cancer. more about this expert »

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