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Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) is a rare and aggressive malignancy that affects the breast skin and lymph nodes. Unlike most other types of breast cancer, IBC does not typically produce a distinct lump that can be felt or detected in a mammogram or ultrasound scan. Instead, its symptoms are often similar to those of a breast infection. Despite its name and characteristic symptoms, however, the condition is unrelated to inflammation.

Early warning signs of inflammatory breast cancer

IBC symptoms often develop and progress rapidly, usually over a few weeks or months. In many cases, the initial signs are noticeable changes in the appearance and texture of the breast.

What does inflammatory breast cancer look like?

The hallmark sign of IBC is peau d’orange (“orange peel skin”), which occurs when cancer cells infiltrate the lymphatic vessels within the breast, blocking the flow of lymph and causing fluid buildup and swelling. As a result, the breast skin may become thickened, pitted and dimpled, similar to the texture of an orange peel.

Other visible signs of inflammatory breast cancer can include:

  • Persistent redness
  • Bruising
  • A rash that covers more than one-third of the breast
  • Changes in the appearance of the nipple, such as flattening or inversion
  • Unusual nipple discharge (other than breastmilk)
  • Sudden breast asymmetry
  • Distinct ridges or thickened areas on the surface of the breast

IBC can also affect the lymph nodes near the collarbone, neck and underarm area, causing them to become swollen and enlarged.

If you have received a breast cancer diagnosis or test results indicative of breast cancer, the experts at Moffitt can help. You can submit a new patient appointment request - no referral needed.
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What does inflammatory breast cancer feel like?

In the affected breast, IBC can cause various sensations, such as:

  • Warmth
  • Tenderness
  • Heaviness
  • Itching

Symptoms of advanced inflammatory breast cancer

Additional symptoms can develop if IBC spreads (metastasizes) from the breast to another part of the body, such as the:

  • Bones – Persistent bone pain and frequent fractures
  • Lungs – Difficulty breathing and shortness of breath
  • Liver – Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice) along with abdominal pain and swelling
  • Brain or spinal cord – Headaches, seizures, memory loss, confusion, difficulty concentrating, weakness, numbness and other neurological symptoms

Metastatic inflammatory breast cancer can also cause overwhelming fatigue, nausea, vomiting and unintended weight loss.

Benefit from world-class care at Moffitt Cancer Center

If you would like to have your inflammatory breast cancer symptoms evaluated by a specialist at Moffitt, you can request an appointment by calling 1-888-663-3488 or submitting a new patient registration form online. Our renowned Don & Erika Wallace Comprehensive Breast Program offers individualized advice, diagnostics, treatment, support and multiple expert opinions in a single location without referrals.