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a doctor looks at a diagnostic mammogram scan

An inflammatory breast cancer diagnosis is usually confirmed after a woman or her physician has already noticed one or more of the typical symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer. Breast changes that include redness, swelling, warmth, skin thickening and an orange-peel appearance are all signs that prompt follow-up should be sought. These symptoms can develop as “nests” of cancer cells accumulate under the skin and clog the lymph system.

When inflammatory breast cancer is suspected, a physician will usually first order one or more imaging tests, such as a diagnostic mammogram or breast ultrasound. Breast cancer is then diagnosed through a biopsy, which a physician will perform to surgically remove a small sample of suspicious breast tissue for evaluation under a microscope. Because inflammatory breast cancer usually presents as skin changes rather than a distinct lump or mass, a skin punch biopsy is often used to obtain a cell sample for further testing. On the other hand, if a lesion is visible, a physician might perform an ultrasound-guided core needle biopsy or open biopsy to retrieve a sample.

If the results of a biopsy confirm the diagnosis of inflammatory breast cancer, a physician will likely order additional testing to determine the extent of the condition, whether the other breast is affected and whether lymph nodes or other organs are involved. Some tests that can be helpful in that regard include:

  • Breast MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)
  • Chest X-ray
  • CT scan (computerized tomography) of the chest, abdomen and pelvic area
  • Bone scan
  • Liver function test

Although inflammatory breast cancer is relatively rare, it is a fast-growing form of cancer that is usually treated aggressively. At Moffitt Cancer Center, we welcome women who would like advice about inflammatory breast cancer or breast cancer in general, as well as those who are seeking evaluation and treatment. Moffitt has a large, highly specialized breast clinic that offers patients access to vast resources, including board-certified physicians and cutting-edge clinical trials that can be particularly beneficial to patients with less common cancer types.

To learn more about Moffitt’s services for inflammatory breast cancer diagnosis and treatment, please call 1-888-663-3488. Or, you may choose to  schedule an appointment online. At Moffitt, no referrals are ever needed.