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These symptoms are not caused by inflammation. Instead, they are caused by cancer cells blocking lymph vessels in the skin and soft tissue. Lymph is a clear fluid that contains tissue waste and cells that help fight infection. It travels through the body in vessels that are similar to veins. When these vessels are blocked by cancer cells, lymph builds up in the breast, causing it to swell.
Like more common forms of breast cancer, IBC can be divided into three molecular subtypes that can fuel the cancer's growth and spread: HER2-positive, hormone receptor positive, and triple-negative. Compared to non-inflammatory breast cancer, IBC is more often HER2-positive or triple-negative. These subtypes impact a patient’s treatment and prognosis. Learn more about these molecular subtypes on our main breast cancer site.
IBC is an aggressive disease, with a historically reported five-year survival rate around 40%. Advances in care are helping more patients live longer, though. Recent studies have shown that with the right treatment IBC's five-year survival rate is closer to 70% for stage III patients, and up to 50% for newly diagnosed stage IV patients.
Inflammatory breast cancer risk factors
A risk factor is anything that increases the chances of developing a specific disease.
The risk factors for inflammatory breast cancer are the same for other breast cancers. These include:
- Age: As women age, their breast cancer risk increases. Most breast cancers are diagnosed after age 50. On average, IBC is diagnosed about 5 years younger than non-IBC, at an average age of 51 years old.
- Inherited genetic mutations: Specific gene mutations increase the risk of developing cancer. These include BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations. Normal BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes repair damaged DNA. When these genes are mutated in certain ways, they fail at DNA repair, which could lead to breast and/or ovarian cancer. Other mutations that can lead to breast cancer are to PALB2, another DNA repair gene; CHEK2, a tumor suppressor gene; and PTEN, which controls how quickly cells multiply. At this time, there are no mutations associated specifically with IBC. The disease has similar rates of BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations as non-IBC breast cancers. Research into the role genetics may play in IBC is ongoing. Learn more about hereditary cancer syndromes.
- Family history: A woman’s odds of developing breast cancer are higher if a parent, sibling or child has had the disease.
- Early menstruation: Women who began menstruating before age 12 have a higher risk of developing breast cancer.
- No full-term pregancies or pregnancy before 30: Women who have no full-term pregnancies or their first pregnancy after age 30 are at a higher risk of breast cancer.
- Previous breast cancer diagnosis: A woman who has had breast cancer once has a higher risk of developing a second cancer.
- Previous radiation therapy: People who had radiation therapy to the chest in childhood or early adulthood to treat another cancer are at a higher risk of developing breast cancer. The benefits of these earlier radiation treatments far outweigh the risks, however.
- Obesity: Obesity, particularly after menopause, increases a woman’s breast cancer risk.
- Dense breast tissue: Based on its appearance in a mammogram, dense breast tissue is a known risk factor for breast cancer.
Learn more about inflammatory breast cancer:
- Inflammatory breast cancer symptoms
- Inflammatory breast cancer diagnosis
- Inflammatory breast cancer treatment
Some cases of inflammatory breast cancer can be passed down from one generation to the next. Genetic counseling may be right for you. Learn more about the risk to you and your family on our genetic counseling page.
Why choose MD Anderson for inflammatory breast cancer care?
IBC represents only 1%-5% of all breast cancer cases in the United States. Due to its aggressive nature, though, it accounts for about 10% of U.S. breast cancer deaths. Early and accurate inflammatory breast cancer diagnosis and personalized treatment by experts who specialize in IBC can make an important difference.
At MD Anderson, we established the world's first cancer clinic dedicated to the treatment of women with inflammatory breast cancer. We see hundreds of inflammatory breast cancer patients each year, more than any other center in the world. Patients at the Inflammatory Breast Cancer Clinic can be seen by medical oncologists, radiation oncologists and surgeons who special expertise in the treatment of IBC. This group works together to coordinate care and develop a personalized treatment plan for each patient. In addition, faculty attend weekly case conferences to discuss new patients and/or difficult cases, ensure multi-disciplinary input and offer the highest quality of care.
Inflammatory breast cancer research gives new hope
MD Anderson has played a key role in development of many treatments to improve the survival of inflammatory breast cancer patients. In fact, this is one of the few places with the experience and expertise to offer clinical trials for all stages of inflammatory breast cancer, from newly diagnosed to recurrent/metastatic disease. Current trials include the use of immunotherapy, new targeted therapy regimens and new drug combinations.
And, at MD Anderson you're surrounded by the strength of one of the nation's top-ranked cancer centers. We have all the support and wellness services needed to treat the whole person – not just the disease.
MD Anderson is a big organization, but it’s welcoming and it makes you feel safe. Help was always available.
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MD Anderson patients have access to clinical trials offering promising new treatments that cannot be
found anywhere else.
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Prevention & Screening
Many cancers can be prevented with lifestyle changes and regular screening.