Getting the right diagnosis is the first step in cancer treatment. MD Anderson has experts who specialize in the diagnosis of breast cancer and its subtypes, including inflammatory breast cancer. Since inflammatory breast cancer is a fast-growing disease, an early, accurate diagnosis greatly increases the chances for successful treatment.
Since symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer often are similar to those of mastitis, a type of breast infection, doctors first may prescribe antibiotics. If the symptoms do not improve or grow worse, patients should have diagnostic tests performed as soon as possible. These may include:
The first diagnostic procedure for breast cancer is typically an imaging exam. Breast imaging is usually carried out with a mammogram, breast ultrasound and breast MRI. Doctors will also use imaging exams to look for signs that the disease has spread beyond the breast. In this situation, PET CT, a combined PET scan and CT scan, is used for inflammatory breast cancer patients more than standard CT scan and bone scan. Learn more about imaging exams.
In inflammatory breast cancer, imaging exams may not reveal a distinct breast lump. Instead, they may show skin thickening or enlarged lymph nodes. In these cases, doctors will need to retrieve some suspected cancer tissue. The process of retrieving and examining this tissue under a microscope is called a biopsy.
For inflammatory breast cancer, patients usually undergo an image-guided core needle biopsy. During this procedure, a live image of the breast tissue helps doctors guide a needle to suspected cancer tissue. In many cases, this biopsy is performed during the initial imaging exam in order to speed up the diagnosis.
Sometimes, the skin biopsy is needed to determine the extent of disease or because the biopsy of the breast tissue does not make a diagnosis.
If the biopsy reveals cancerous tissue, additional images and biopsies may be needed to determine the exact scope of the disease. This part of the diagnosis shows whether the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes or other parts of the body.
If the patient is diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer, doctors will also analyze the cancer cells to determine the disease’s molecular receptor subtype. By understanding the subtype, they can develop a comprehensive, personalized treatment plan.
Inflammatory breast cancer stages
A cancer’s stage is used to describe the extent of the cancer in the patient’s body. Doctors use the stage to plan treatment and make a prognosis.
Inflammatory breast cancer uses the same staging system as non-inflammatory breast cancer. The disease is considered at least a stage III cancer. If it has spread beyond the breast and nearby lymph nodes, it is stage IV.
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.
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