Become aware of the ‘other’ breast cancer

To the editor:

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. I am writing because few women seem to be aware of the “other” breast cancer. Until my mother had it, I never heard of it. Since she passed away in 2005, I have mentioned inflammatory breast cancer whenever the opportunity presented itself. In 13 years, I met just one woman who had heard of it.

Inflammatory breast cancer is rare and very aggressive. This type of breast cancer is called “inflammatory” because the breast often looks swollen and red, or inflamed. The skin of the breast may also appear pink, reddish purple, or bruised. In addition, the skin may have ridges or appear pitted, like the skin of an orange.

Inflammatory breast cancer is uncommon and accounts for 1 to 5 percent of all breast cancers diagnosed in the United States. It progresses rapidly, often in a matter of weeks or months. At diagnosis, it is either stage III or IV disease. This cancer can be difficult to diagnose. Often, there is no lump that can be felt during a physical exam or seen in a mammogram. Also, because it is so aggressive, it can arise between scheduled screening mammograms.

Early symptoms may include persistent itching and the appearance of a rash or small irritation similar to an insect bite. Inflammatory breast cancer can easily be confused with a breast infection, which is a much more common cause of redness and swelling. If your symptoms respond to antibiotics, then additional testing isn’t necessary but if the redness does not improve, consult your doctor. The only way to determine if your symptoms are caused by inflammatory breast cancer is to do a biopsy.

There is more information available about this cancer now than when my mother had it. Advances have been made in the treatment of inflammatory breast cancer and researchers are working to figure out which treatment combinations are most effective.

Please seek medical attention promptly if you have a rapid change in the appearance of the skin on your breast or visible enlargement of one breast. If your breast has a red, purple, pink or bruised appearance and/or tenderness, pain or aching, please see a doctor.

Don’t assume there has to be a lump. Don’t assume that because your last mammogram was OK, you’re OK.

Betty Paulus