CINCINNATI—Most women believe that having their annual mammograms and clinical breast exams is enough to catch cancer if it develops.
University of Cincinnati (UC) breast cancer experts counsel that paying
attention to even minor changes in breast appearance could save
your life if you get a rare form of the disease known as “inflammatory”
breast cancer. Unlike most other forms of breast cancer, they say, this
disease is undetectable on a mammogram and doesn’t start as a lump.
breast cancer starts as a tissue thickening or redness, versus a lump
that can be felt,” explains Jennifer Manders, MD, assistant professor
and breast surgeon at the UC, “so it often goes undetected until the
disease has spread to the lymph nodes and possibly to other areas of
are two primary types of breast cancer: noninvasive, which is localized
to one place, and invasive, which can spread to other parts of the
body. Inflammatory breast cancer is a very aggressive form of invasive
cancer caused by a build-up of breast cancer cells that block the
body’s lymphatic system produces and stores cells to fight off
infection and disease. Breast lymphatics, tiny channels similar to
blood vessels, transport fluid from the breast tissue to the lymph node
glands in the underarm, which in turn help to fight infection and
disease. Inflammatory breast cancer cells enter directly into the
lymphatic channels within the skin of the breast, allowing the disease
to spread more quickly to other parts of the body.
scientists estimate that the disease represents only 1 to 5 percent of
all breast cancers, it is one of the most difficult types to treat
because it is often diagnosed in an advanced stage.
is a lack of awareness about this disease,” says Manders, “so women
often dismiss the warning signs of inflammatory breast cancer because
it’s not obvious that something is wrong.”
warning signs include painless skin discoloration or redness (similar
to a bug bite), rapid increase in breast size, an inverted nipple, and
enlarged lymph nodes in the underarms or neck.
“Every woman should be familiar with the way her breasts look and feel normally,” adds Zeina Nahleh, MD,
a medical oncologist and assistant professor at UC. “That way, she can
quickly identify suspicious changes and have them examined immediately
by a physician.”
for inflammatory breast cancer typically involves chemotherapy first,
to halt the spread of cancer, followed by surgery to remove the lymph
nodes and breast tissue and chest radiation to kill any remaining
“What’s important is that women recognize the warning signs before the disease becomes untreatable,” adds Nahleh.
For information on breast cancer clinical trials, call the UC Cancer Center research office at (513) 584-2951.