It runs counter to what many women have come to expect in breast cancer. Inflammatory breast cancer, or IBC, is a rare form that presents without a lump.

“Inflammatory Breast Cancer is a cancer that presents with a very swollen, hot, tender breast. And usually what happens is the patients will go to their primary care physician, they’ll be treated for an infection, the antibiotics will be given but they’ll still have a hot, inflamed breast,” says Dr. Lea Blackwell, breast surgical oncologist on Lee Memorial Health System’s medical staff.

It’s an extremely aggressive disease. The heat, redness and swelling results from its rapid development.

“The cancer cells block the lymphatic system of the breast and so it can’t drain and it has all this extra fluid in it and it has this inflammatory reaction,” says Dr. Blackwell.

IBC is usually picked up in late stages. In 35-40% of patients, the disease had spread to other organs before they were diagnosed. It helps if women and their doctors are familiar with the warning signs.

“Absolutely. If the patient has a hot, swollen breast that looks like they have an infection and you treat it with antibiotics for at least two weeks, and it’s the same or worse, then that patients needs to be evaluated for possibility of Inflammatory Breast Cancer,” says Dr. Blackwell.

If a diagnosis is made, patients go into aggressive, multi-modality treatment.

“First the patient goes through treatment of chemotherapy, then they have a mastectomy and then they’ll need radiation after the mastectomy,” says Dr. Blackwell.

The five year survival rate for IBC is 40% compared to 87% for invasive ductal breast cancer.

“The things to look for are a breast dramatically growing in size probably, about twice the size of the other breast. Then typically it has this look to it called podorange which is an orange peel skin change because of all the swelling in the skin,” says Dr. Blackwell. Because IBC flies under the radar it is critical to see a breast specialist right away if you have any concerns.