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The Breast Cancer Women Don't Know About

Updated: Nov 3, 2022

Pink October

Inflammatory Breast Cancer is the one breast cancer most women have never heard of.

It is rare, accounting for less than two per cent of all breast cancers in the UK. However, it's deadly - especially if it is not diagnosed quickly. That is why every woman should know the signs.

What sets this breast cancer apart is its aggressive nature and presentation - it very rarely has a lump.

It kills around 50 per cent of those diagnosed with it.

Undetectable until the cancer is stage 3, this is a disease that develops quickly - often over a period of just weeks or months. So, unlike many other breast cancers, it does not take years to form. In addition, it is always present in at least one lymph node at diagnosis.

Inflammatory Breast Cancer CAN occur in young women.


This is a breast cancer that has no known genetic markers, so it is not hereditary. There is also no known cause.

Commonly initially misdiagnosed, it can look like a myriad of benign breast conditions such as mastitis.

Many women have been prescribed antibiotics multiple times before they are, eventually, referred to a breast clinic. GPs are not trained in the specifics of this cancer, making awareness among women vitally important.

Symptoms can include one or a combination of the following:

  • Redness

  • Swelling

  • Hot to the touch

  • Pain

  • A rash

  • The appearance of orange peel-like skin

  • An inverted nipple

The cancer grows like a spider's web in the skin and interferes with the lymphatic system. For some, this can lead to overall hardness in the breast.



Advances in systemic treatments over the past decade are offering more women - and some men, too - real hope.

A trimodal approach has seen survival rates increase. Those diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic disease are living longer due to newer treatments.

Treatment schedule:

  • Neoadjuvant chemotherapy

  • Non skin sparing mastectomy with lymph node clearance (within 6 weeks of chemo ending)

  • Radiotherapy x 15 (4 weeks after surgery and WITH a bolus)

Depending on the cancer's 'sub-type', its HER2 status, whether or not there was any residual disease after chemo and a person's age, further drug treatment is likely to be required - often for at least a year and in some cases for up to 5 or 10 years.

Additional treatments can include targeted cancer therapies such as Herceptin and Perjeta, hormone receptor antagonists such as Tamoxifen, more chemo and/or a three-year course of drugs to help prevent bone metastasis and osteoporosis.

inflammatory breast cancer


Because Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC) has different treatment pathways to most other breast cancers, patients need to be their own advocates. The only specialist centre in the UK is in Birmingham and it is important that those given a diagnosis of IBC know the correct treatment schedule.

Thankfully, the Inflammatory Breast Cancer Network UK offers support and advice to all those going through treatment. In addition to sharing international treatment protocols and offering emotional support, it has a team of world-leading experts, based in Birmingham and at a university cancer centre in the US, to offer free second opinions.

While a diagnosis of IBC is devastating, more and more patients are either surviving it or living with it.

Me? Yes, it is me in the photos! Was... Stage 3b TN4N1. Currently... No evidence of disease.

Pain was my main symptom, so never listen to those who say breast cancer doesn't hurt. This particular breast cancer can.

I'd never heard of Inflammatory Breast Cancer - until I got it.

Hope always.

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1 Comment

Oct 06, 2022

Learned a lot from this and I'm sure it will help a lot of women. I hope women don't go through this cancer. Thank you for sharing!

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