Inflammatory breast cancer is a rare form of breast cancer characterized by redness, swelling, and tenderness in the affected breast.

Inflammatory breast cancer occurs when cancer cells blocks the lypmphatic vessels in part of the breast, causing the redness and swelling associated with the cancer. The blockage makes the breast skin appear pink, purple, or bruised with a pitted surface like that of an orange peel.

Other signs of inflammatory breast cancer include:

  • swollen lymph nodes in the armpit, near the collarbone, or in other areas of the body
  • breast tenderness
  • itching
  • breast pain
  • inward turning of the nipple

Because of its rapid growth, inflammatory breast cancer normally spreads to other parts of the body.

Unlike other types of breast cancer, the inflammatory type's lump in the breast is rarely felt and usually discovered only via mammogram. Because of the absence of a lump, inflammatory breast cancer is often confused with breast infection.

Treatment for inflammatory breast cancer normally includes local treatment such as mastectomy or lumpectomy to remove the damaged tissue, as well as chemotherapy and radiation to treat the other tissues potentially affected by the cancer.

While causes of inflammatory breast cancer are unknown, doctors know that it begins with a single cell in a breast duct. Mutation of that cell's DNA is responsible for the rapid spreading.

If you experience any of redness, swelling, or tenderness of the breast that isn't explained by injury or some other obvious cause, see your doctor as soon as possible.

Visit the Breast Cancer Learning Center to learn more.