Inflammatory breast cancer: Why is treatment so difficult?

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Inflammatory breast cancer: Why is treatment so difficult?

Question

Why is inflammatory breast cancer so difficult to treat?

Rita
Arizona

Answer

Inflammatory breast cancer gets its name from the red, swollen appearance of the breast. It is an aggressive form of cancer that presents unique treatment challenges. Because inflammatory breast cancer looks like a much more common breast infection call mastitis, the diagnosis can be delayed — which means the cancer has more time to spread.

The reason the breast becomes red and swollen is that the cancer cells clog the lymph channels in the skin, which causes fluid to back up into the breast. This swelling can delay surgery to remove the cancer because incisions won't heal properly when swelling is present. Chemotherapy is often used to kill the cancer cells and relieve swelling so that surgery can be done.

In addition, inflammatory breast cancer is more likely than other types of breast cancer to spread (metastasize) to the lymph nodes or other areas of the body before it is detected. Because of the aggressive nature of this cancer, treatment often includes a combination of chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, hormone therapy and trastuzumab (Herceptin).

Last Updated: 10/30/2006
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