Key Points about Inflammatory Breast Cancer

  • Inflammatory breast cancer occurs when cancerous cells block the lymphatic vessels, which leads to a change in the physical appearance of the affected breast.
  • Doctors use physical exam, biopsy and imaging tests to diagnose inflammatory breast cancer.
  • Chemotherapy is typically the first treatment recommended for inflammatory breast cancer.
  • Following your doctor’s recommendation for starting regular mammograms is one of the best ways to reduce your risk of developing inflammatory breast cancer.


Breast cancer is cancer that begins in the breast tissue. A rare, quick-growing type of breast cancer, inflammatory breast cancer causes the breast to be red, tender and swollen.

Inflammatory breast cancer causes

Breast cancer is caused by mutations (changes) to the DNA of the cells of the breast. Inflammatory breast cancer occurs when cancerous cells block the lymphatic vessels of the skin of the breast, which causes the red and swollen appearance of the affected breast.

Inflammatory breast cancer risk factors

The following factors may increase your risk for developing inflammatory breast cancer:

  • Being African-American
  • Being between the ages of 40 and 60
  • Being female (though men can also develop this type of cancer)
  • Being obese

Inflammatory breast cancer symptoms

Signs and symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer may include:

  • A change in the shape or size of a breast
  • Change in color of a breast, such as red, purple, pink or bruised appearance
  • Change in nipple shape, such as flattening or inward appearance
  • Dimpling or ridges on the skin of a breast
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the underarm, or above or below the collarbone
  • Thickness or visible enlargement in one breast
  • Unusual pain or aching in a breast
  • Unusual warmth of a breast

Inflammatory breast cancer diagnosis

Your oncologist may use one or more of the following tests to diagnose this condition:

  • Physical exam - your doctor will perform a complete physical exam, including asking questions about your health history, symptoms and related risk factors.
  • Computerized tomography (CT) scan - this type of imaging test provides a 3-D image of the inside of the body that your doctor can use to determine if there is any cancer present.
  • Biopsy - in this test, your doctor removes a biopsy (small tissue sample) from the suspicious area. This sample is sent to the laboratory, where a specialist closely checks the biopsy for abnormalities.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) - this type of imaging test uses high-powered magnets to create detailed images of the inside of your body. Your doctor can closely examine these images to look for any areas that could indicate cancer.

Inflammatory breast cancer treatments

Depending on your personal health history, the extent of your inflammatory breast cancer and other factors, your oncologist may recommend one or more of the following treatment options:

  • Chemotherapy - in most cases, the first course of treatment for inflammatory breast cancer is chemotherapy. During this treatment, medication is used to destroy cancerous cells. Chemotherapy can be taken via an oral (by mouth) pill or intravenously (through a vein).
  • Surgery - after you undergo chemotherapy, your doctor will likely recommend you undergo surgery to remove the cancerous area. Your surgeon will work to preserve as much surrounding healthy tissue as possible. In some cases, you may opt to undergo reconstructive surgery following surgery to treat breast cancer.
  • Radiation therapy - this treatment uses high-powered energy beams to destroy cancerous cells. You may need to undergo radiation therapy to destroy any cancerous cells that couldn’t be removed surgically.
  • Hormone therapy - if you have hormone receptor-positive breast cancer, your oncologist may recommend you undergo hormone therapy for the hormone estrogen and progesterone.
  • Targeted therapy - this treatment uses medications that attack specific abnormalities within the cancer cells. Targeted therapy can be used for cancerous cells within the breast or in cancer that has spread to other areas of the body.

When should I seek care?

If you experience any of these symptoms, start by voicing your concerns and symptoms to your primary care provider. From there, your doctor may suggest seeing an oncologist for more specialized treatment.

Find an oncologist near you

Bon Secours locations that can treat you