Why Is Inflammatory Breast Cancer Diagnosed Relatively Late?

Inflammatory Breast Cancer can be one of the more difficult cancers to catch at an early stage, and the fact that it’s diagnosed late impacts survival rates.

At present, breast cancer is considered one of the most common cancers in the world. During 2022, 290,560 new cases are expected to be recorded, among both men and women in the US.

However, breast cancer comes in many different forms. The most common form of breast cancer is known as “invasive breast cancer”, wherein mutated cells spread throughout the breast tissue, often from within the lining of the breast ducts.

Inflammatory breast cancer, otherwise known as “IBC”, is a form of “invasive ductal carcinoma”, but it only accounts for around 1% to 5% of all breast cancer cases.

One of the biggest challenges of Inflammatory Breast Cancer, and one of the top reasons for its poor prognosis, is how difficult it can be to detect.

After all, you’re most likely to survive cancer if you catch it early. It’s unfortunate that Inflammatory Breast Cancer is often caught late, and tends to have a relatively late diagnosis, because this results in a less optimistic prognosis for the cancer patient.

Why is Inflammatory Breast Cancer diagnosed relatively late? Read on to find out more about what Inflammatory Breast Cancer is, and why it’s common for it to have a late diagnosis.

What is Inflammatory Breast Cancer?

Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC) is a rare form of breast cancer which differs from other forms of the cancer in a variety of ways. In IBC, cancerous cells block the lymph vessels in the skin of the breast, causing it to appear swollen, or inflamed.

Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC) can be more common for certain demographics. For instance, while men can rarely suffer from this condition, but usually at an older age than in women. And it is more common in women who are overweight or obese. Additionally, African American women tend to develop this condition more frequently than Caucasian women. The incidence of IBC among African American women is up to 70% higher than in Caucasian females.

Compared to other forms of cancer, IBC is considered to be particularly aggressive. It can grow and spread more easily than other forms of breast cancer. Within a matter of weeks or months, the cancer can spread to nearby lymph nodes and tissues. In approximately 1 in 3 cases, the cancer will have already spread to other parts of the body when the initial case is diagnosed.

Unfortunately, this form of breast cancer doesn’t have the greatest survival rates.

Diagnosing Inflammatory Breast Cancer

In general, Inflammatory Breast Cancer doesn’t look the same as other cancers, so it’s more difficult to detect it. Why is inflammatory breast cancer diagnosed relatively late? For one thing, there’s rarely a lump in the breast with this form of breast cancer. Furthermore, Inflammatory Breast Cancer doesn’t always show up on a mammogram, making it difficult to diagnose. IBC also tends to appear in younger women, under the age of 40, while other breast cancers are more common in older women, following menopause. These younger women might not even have breast cancer on their radar. Some of them might not even be checking for cancer symptoms at all, because they believe they’re too young to get cancer.

The nature of Inflammatory Breast Cancer also means it’s typically at a more advanced stage from the moment it’s initially diagnosed. This is because the cancerous cells have already grown into the skin when it tends to finally be detected, which means it’s treated as a stage 3 cancer straight away.

The best way to prevent this form of cancer is to stay as informed as possible about your body, and seek out advice from a doctor when you notice symptoms.

Nonspecificity of symptoms is unfortunate, but that’s why any symptom at all should not be ignored.

It’s also worth checking your DNA for genetic health risks. While a specific genetic mutation isn’t associated with IBC, studies show that approximately 58% of Inflammatory Breast Cancer patients had a family history of breast or ovarian cancer.

Checking your family history through a DNA test can make it easier to get ahead of cancerous growths, and seek assistance before the issue spreads too far. It’s also worth looking for symptoms such as:

  • Swelling throughout the skin of the breast
  • Thickening of the skin of the breast (so it looks or feels similar to orange peel)
  • Redness covering more than 1 third of the breast area
  • An inverted or retracted nipple
  • One breast which appears larger than the other because of swelling
  • One breast which seems warmer or heavier than the other
  • Tenderness, pain, or itchiness throughout the breast
  • Swelling of lymph nodes near the collarbone or under the arms

How is Inflammatory Breast Cancer Diagnosed?

If you’re concerned about a genetic history of cancer in your family, or you think you might have a higher risk of IBC than most, it’s important to seek out a diagnosis. After speaking to your doctor, they may recommend various tests to confirm IBC, such as:

  • Imaging tests: Mammograms, ultrasounds, and MRIs are common ways of examining the underlying skin and tissues of the breast for a cancer diagnosis. A photo of the breast may be taken to record the spreading of the inflammation.
  • Biopsy: Breast tissue and skin can be examined using a biopsy, which involves removing a small piece of tissue and evaluating it in a lab. Only a biopsy can show for certain whether you’re dealing with cancer, or another form of inflammation.
  • Grading tests: If cancerous cells are found in the biopsy, further examination will determine the grade of the cancer. The cells will also need to be tested for certain proteins which help to determine how significant the cancer is, such as hormone receptor proteins and HER2 protein. The presence of certain proteins can also help to indicate which forms of treatment are best for your needs.

Understanding Inflammatory Breast Cancer

Inflammatory breast cancer is one of the more aggressive forms of breast cancer in the world today, and it tends to have a worse prognosis than some other forms of breast cancer. However, this form of breast cancer is also quite rare.

If you’re concerned about your cancer risk, the best thing you can do is get to know your genetic history, and seek out specific guidance from a medical professional. Being on top of the issue early on could reduce your risk of cancerous cells spreading into other parts of the body, making the condition more difficult to treat.


  1. https://www.cancer.gov/types/common-cancers#:~:text=The most common type of,are combined for the list.
  2. https://www.cancer.gov/types/breast/ibc-fact-sheet#:~:text=Inflammatory breast cancer is a,swollen and red%2C or inflamed.
  3. https://ihpi.umich.edu/news/women-inflammatory-breast-cancer-are-living-longer-gap-between-white-and-black-patients#:~:text=The incidence of IBC among,Breast Cancer Research and Treatment.
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6147049/
  5. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer/about/types-of-breast-cancer/inflammatory-breast-cancer.html#:~:text=IBC tends to occur in,common types of breast cancer.
  6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32875655/
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5770232/
  8. https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/facts/health-effects-of-alcohol/alcohol-related-diseases/alcohol-and-breast-cancer#:~:text=For breast cancer in particular,of developing breast cancer becomes.
  9. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27161276/

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