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Inflammatory Breast Cancer: Highly Aggressive and Frequently Misdiagnosed

Posted By Regan Zambri & Long || 14-Sep-2007

Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC) is deadly, and rarely detected in self breast exams or routine mammograms.  That’s because it develops as a sheet, rather than in nodules or lumps that can more easily be felt or seen.  In many cases, IBC isn’t diagnosed until it is too advanced to treat successfully; not only because it’s difficult to detect, but also because it spreads much faster than typical breast cancers.  IBC is also relatively rare, accounting for between 1% and 5% of all cancers in the U.S.  According to experts at the Mayo Clinic, the following signs and symptoms are associated with IBC:

  • "A breast that appears red, purple, pink or bruised
  • A tender, firm and enlarged breast
  • A warm feeling in the breast
  • Itching of the breast
  • Pain
  • Ridged or dimpled skin texture, similar to an orange peel
  • Thickened areas of skin
  • Enlarged lymph nodes under the arm, above the collarbone or below the collarbone
  • Flattening or retraction of the nipple
  • Swollen or crusted skin on the nipple
  • Change in color of the skin around the nipple (areola)"

The experts advise that symptoms occur when cancer cells clog the lymphatic vessels around the breast — that blockage begins to redden the skin, making it swollen and dimpled.

The Inflammatory Breast Cancer Research Center warns that partly because of the rarity of the disease, many medical professionals fail to properly diagnose it.  Following are some misdiagnoses the group has recorded anecdotally:

  • "The doctor said that if it was breast cancer he would be able to find a lump and a discharge, not just inflammation and swollen nodes; the doctor explained that the calcifications in the breast tissue were due to caffeine (which she didn’t drink.)
  • The doctor said she had spider bites when she developed skin metastasis following treatment for regular breast cancer.
  • After her mammogram, the radiologist told her to stop wearing under wire bras.
  • She was told to change bras and detergent to get rid of the rash
  • At age 20, she was told the lump she felt was ‘rib cartilage’ and not to worry as she was too young to have breast cancer. She wasn’t properly diagnosed until 2 years and 3 exams later. She died of IBC at age 25.
  • She was told she had regular breast cancer instead of IBC. Her doctor said he had seen plenty of IBC cases and she didn’t have it.
  • She had inflammation with intense itching on one breast which appeared and disappeared 4 times. The first time it was diagnosed as spider bites, the second time as an allergic reaction to food or detergent, and irritation from cyst fluid from fibrocystic breast the 3rd time.  Note:  spider bites or insect bites do not cause inflammatory breast cancer.  Seek medical attention if a small red spot having the appearance of an insect bite does not soon resolve.
  • Her IBC was diagnosed first as shingles."

If you think you may be exhibiting the signs or symptoms of IBC, contact your physician immediately. 

Previously on the D.C. Metro Area Medical Malpractice Law Blog, we have posted articles related to:

  • Tips for a successful mammography
  • Young female smokers face a higher breast cancer risk
  • A study linking a breast cancer gene to fathers
  • Updated guidelines for early breast cancer detection

If you or a family member believes that you have a case involving medical care, please contact us on-line at Regan Zambri & Long or call us at 202-759-6699 for a free consultation.  If you would like to receive our complimentary electronic newsletter, please click here.

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