A little over a year ago, I had never heard of Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC). It's not surprising though. Most people -- including many in the medical field -- have never heard of this type of cancer. IBC is a rare form of the disease, accounting for only 1-5 percent of all breast cancer cases. But this 1 percent cancer quickly became much more than that for me and my family.
The first time I came across this particularly nasty type of breast cancer was when I did a quick Google search of my symptoms, which included a swollen, red breast and pitted skin. I thought I had a summer rash, or, in a worst-case scenario, mastitis (a breast infection), potentially caused by a blocked milk duct. Though I had stopped nursing a while back, my youngest daughter was 16 months old at the time, so it felt like a likely possibility.
But what I found when I conducted that memorable search online was Inflammatory Breast Cancer. It is a rare and aggressive form of the disease and is unique in that it presents itself with symptoms such as redness, swelling and tenderness in the breast and pitting of the skin. The cancer grows in sheets and often there is no lump. No lump?! Worse yet, mammograms often can not detect this scary disease -- though at age 34 and with little family history of cancer, I hadn't yet had a mammogram anyway.
IBC is diagnosed by its clinical presentation, ultrasounds, MRIs and biopsies. By nature, Inflammatory Breast Cancer is diagnosed at a late stage, either Stage III or IV, as the cancer has already invaded the skin. There is no early detection for IBC. And the prognosis, survival and recurrence rates for this type of cancer are much worse than typical breast cancer. The five-year survival rate for IBC is somewhere between 25-50 percent.