Last week, when the doctor told my mother-in-law that she may have Inflammatory Breast Cancer, it was a real eye opener. Upon hearing the words that the cancer may have returned and that it may have returned in such a form, it just floored her.
Over the weekend my wife looked up as much information as she could, learning all the facts about IBC, so she could help her mom prepare if the news was indeed bad. After four days of research and countless painstaking hours reading horror stories and other real-life experiences, my wife was deflated to say the least.
Inflammatory breast cancer is a rare but very aggressive type of breast cancer in which the cancer cells block the lymph vessels in the skin of the breast. This type of breast cancer is called “inflammatory” because the breast often looks swollen and red, or “inflamed.” IBC accounts for 1 to 5 percent of all breast cancer cases in the United States.
My mother-in-law’s appointment was Tuesday afternoon. The doctor had scheduled a mammogram and an ultrasound. Depending on the results of those two tests, he planned to take a biopsy to see just how bad it was.
Diagnosis of IBC is based primarily on the results of a doctor’s clinical examination (1). Biopsy, mammogram, and breast ultrasound are used to confirm the diagnosis.
Ever since her initial lumpectomy and radiation therapy, my mother-in-law has suffered excruciating pain and many of the symptoms of Inflammatory Breast Cancer.
- Swelling, usually sudden, sometimes a cup size in a few days
- Pink, red, or dark colored area (called erythema) sometimes with texture similar to the skin of an orange (called peau d’orange)
- Ridges and thickened areas of the skin
- Nipple retraction
- Nipple discharge, may or may not be bloody
- Breast is warm to the touch
- Breast pain (from a constant ache to stabbing pains)
- Change in color and texture of the areola
I was going to post some of the photos showing the visual symptoms and other related information, but I thought it might be best if you visited the Inflammatory Breast Cancer Research Foundation site and look through their collection. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms you should consult your physician immediately. IBC is a very aggressive form of cancer and has a 40% survival rate five years after diagnosis.
My mother-in-law was lucky. It turns out all of her symptoms are related to the radiation therapy to cure her invasive ductile carcinoma and she does not have Inflammatory Breast Cancer after all.
If you’re not feeling well, or your body has undergone radical changes, it’s never a bad idea to make an appointment to see your doctor. It’s better to be safe than sorry. My mother-in-law, as exhausted as she is, trekked into Atlanta for her tests, and with our help she was prepared in case the doctor walked into that room and told her the cancer had returned.
Like I said before, my mother-in-law was extremely lucky. What are the odds her radiation therapy would cause her body to suffer so many of the same symptoms and even lead her doctor to believe she may have another form of cancer? Many women have lost their battle with IBC, and we all need to take a few moments to help educate others, so they too can be prepared if something like this ever happens to them.