Inflammatory Breast Cancer

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Can inflammatory breast cancer be detected by mammogram or a breast exam?

Because of the way inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) grows and spreads, a distinct lump may not be noticeable during a clinical breast exam, breast self-exam, or even on a mammogram. However, signs of IBC can be seen on the surface of the skin, and skin thickening often shows up on a mammogram and can be seen during a clinical breast exam or breast self-exam

Symptoms of IBC can develop very quickly, so women should pay attention to how the skin looks on their breasts and tell their doctors about any changes in skin texture or breast appearance.

In women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, breast redness and swelling is more often caused by an infection (mastitis) than by IBC, so doctors might try treatments like antibiotics for a short time first. The possible diagnosis of IBC should be considered more strongly when a woman who is not pregnant or breastfeeding comes in with these symptoms. Breast infection is less common in women who are not pregnant or breastfeeding, and even rarer in women after menopause. When infection occurs it is usually associated with fever or other signs of infection.

Following the American Cancer Society guidelines for early detection of breast cancer can improve a woman's odds of finding most types of breast cancer early, when it can be treated most successfully. Unfortunately, because IBC grows and spreads so fast, screening is not generally helpful for finding this disease early.

(For more information on the American Cancer Society guidelines, see our document called Breast Cancer: Early Detection.)


Last Medical Review: 08/28/2014
Last Revised: 09/05/2014