Unlike other breast cancers, IBC does not present itself as a lump, but as inflammation. The symptoms a patient typically notices or feels include:
- Sudden swelling of a breast, which may look red, or feel itchy or warm;
- Ridges or raised or pitted marks (like the appearance of an orange peel) on breast skin;
- Nipple retraction or discharge; and/or
- Swollen lymph nodes in the underarm or above the collarbone.
In general, IBC has a much poorer prognosis than other types of breast cancer because it spreads so quickly in the lymphatic channels, says Debu Tripathy, M.D., author of Breast Cancer: Beyond Convention and director of the Komen Center for Breast Cancer Research, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.
Dr. Sandra Swain, who is heading up a clinical trial on IBC at the National Institutes of Health, says IBC is characterized by high micro vessel density (MVD) and "MVD is associated with a poorer prognosis, probably because of increased angiogenesis." (Angiogenesis is the formation of new blood vessels. In cancer, new blood cells allow tumor cells to escape into the circulation and lodge in the body's organs.)
In addition, IBC, because of the way it presents itself — it isn't found by mammography or ultrasound — is often in an advanced stage by the time it is diagnosed. Generally, the earlier cancer is detected, the higher the five-year survival rate.
A diagnosis of IBC is very frightening, but it is "by no means a death sentence," says Dr. Tripathy, especially if the cancer has not metastasized.