Inflammatory Breast Cancer

The Silent Killer

Inflammatory Breast CancerFalling behind lung cancer, breast cancer is now the second leading cancer that affect women.  An estimated 1 in 8 women will be affected by breast cancer at some point in their life and while great advances in medicine have been achieved to curtail these statistics, there are still on average about 460,000 women globally who die every year from this disease.

Everyone knows that early detection is primal in the success of breast cancer treatment.  Yearly mammograms are a crucial part of diagnosing a potential problem before it becomes symptomatic.  There seems to be a familiarity with ductal carcinoma, lobular carcinoma and HER2 – cancer whose presence is identifiable with a mammogram and ultrasounds.  However, what happens when a cancer cannot be diagnosed by mammography and is aggressively spreading in silence without suspicion or symptom of any illness?  Unfortunately, there is a deadly breast cancer like that – inflammatory breast cancer (IBC), is the silent killer among all breast cancers and there is no diagnostic screening to identify the presence of this disease.  Mammography and ultra sounds may show dubious evidence of the noxious disease, that claims the lives of over 5,000 women annually, but they are incapable of diagnosing IBC.

IBC is the most aggressive form of breast cancer claiming 1-5% of all breast cancer victims.  The cancer is like a chained tiger that has been let loose on its prey and viciously attacks with no mercy, and in most cases ultimately conquers.  With less than a 25% ultimate survival rate, IBC is one of the deadliest cancers among women.  The survival rate of IBC suffers is so low mainly because by the time a patient is diagnosed, the disease has already metastasized to other parts of the body.  IBC is an invasive cancer that is not settled in a tumor, but grows in the lymph nodes.

The statistics of IBC are grim and because of the invasiveness about this cancer, there are not early preventative maintenance opportunities as commonly seen in other breast cancers or cancers that are identified through diagnostic testing.  Monthly routine self-examinations will typically not show evidence of the disease however, once the symptoms begin to appear, a lump in the breast may accompany them.  The only hope for a patient is that the cancer has not aggressively spread to other organs and parts of the body.

Most breast cancers make their appearance by way of a lump however with IBC the disease grows like nests and clog the lymphatic system.  IBC has often been misdiagnosed as an infection in the breast, because the nipple has cracked and there is discharge present.  Doctors will often treat this with antibiotics, which are unsuccessful, thus exacerbating the prognosis.  The signs of IBC become relevant in a few ways.  The skin around the breast area begins to change.  Areas of the breast skin may have changed in color, a pink or reddened area in common.  The texture of the skin is also like that of an orange and has ridges or appears pitted.  The swelling of the breast causes this build up.  The breast may also appear to have a bruise that does not heal and severe itching may occur.  The nipple area may become swollen and crack, and may have discharge.  As the cancer becomes more prevalent, the breast will be warm and painful to touch.  Over time, the breast will transform and morph into something foreign to the patient and can even double its original size.

The symptoms in IBC vary among patients, and may present themselves overnight.  An IBC victim can feel a small lump in their breast, go to bed and wake up to a lump the size of a golf ball.  It is not clear when IBC will make its theatrical entrance on the body, but by the time it has, the behind the scenes preparations to overtake the body are well underway.  By the time, the patient notices the significant changes in their body, it is often too late, they are diagnosed at a stage IV – meaning the cancer has spread to organs in the body and will require aggressive treatment.

Once IBC has been diagnosed, immediate treatment will begin including a radical mastectomy of the infected breast or breasts, aggressive chemotherapy and combination of agents including radiation and hormone therapy.  Additional surgery may also be required as part of the treatment.  Because of the invasiveness of this disease, many medical professionals choose not to perform additional surgeries.  The prognosis after threatment is bleak, only 25-50% will make it to year five, and the majority of those fall on the lower side of that statistic.

Cancer shows not bias among its victims.  There is not a selective process that is adhered by to decide who will get cancer and who will not.  However, if one were to review the statistics of IBC, they may conclude that there is partiality among this disease.  Statistics show that there is a significant more amount of Caucasian women who develop breast cancer than African-American.  However, the diagnosis’ resulting in deaths are far great among African-American women.  When analyzing the statistic, it is easy to factor many sociological characteristics that play a role in the possible death rate, and it becomes more comprehensive and accepted.

However, there is not an acceptable explanation as to why the majority of IBC victims are among the African-American population – that link has not been made.  Ten percent of all IBC victims are among the African-American population and like other forms of breast cancer the mortality rate is the highest among African-American, nearly double the Caucasian.  In addition, the average age for diagnosis of IBC is around 56.  However, IBC is the most common form of breast cancer among younger women.  Many younger women are diagnosed shortly after giving birth and during the nursing stages – no link has been made there either.

IBC appears to show partiality towards African-American women and younger women, but to date, no scientific link has been made between the deadly disease and the victims.  There has been no conclusive research done to show whether there may be a genetic or ethnic relation to the disease, but based on the statistics, this may ring plausible.

Scientists and researchers are trying to find a way to identify the disease prior to its physical arrival.  However, still no diagnostic tests are available to identify this disease.  Medical professionals leave women with the instruction to be aware of any changes in the breasts, pain or discharge from the nipple – but that does not seem effective enough.  Evidence has mounted that the time these symptoms are apparent, the disease has traveled.

Perhaps there should be separate screenings of the breasts along with mammograms and ultra sounds.  Maybe a visual screening of the breast by the trained eye who can view the breast through magnetic lenses to observe anything that is not normal.  IBC is so invasive and moves so quickly that even if a diagnosis is made four weeks before any symptoms the spread could possibly been derailed from other organs.

Inflammatory breast cancer is the silent killer among all breast cancers, and while strides are made for answers, we are still a long painful ways away.



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