Inflammatory Breast Cancer



Cancer happens when cells divide without control or order. These cells grow together to form a tumor. They can invade and damage nearby tissues. They can also spread to other parts of the body. It is not clear what causes changes in the cells.

In IBC, cancer cells block lymph vessels in the skin. This causes lymph fluid to build up.

Risk Factors

IBC is more common in older women and women who are Black.

Other things that raise the risk are:

  • Obesity or being overweight
  • Dense breasts
  • Close family members with breast cancer



Unlike other breast cancers, a lump or mass may not be felt.

Symptoms start quickly. They may include a breast that is:

  • Firm
  • Swollen and larger than usual
  • Painful
  • Pitted or dimpled—like the skin of an orange
  • Warm

The nipple of the breast may also be pulling inward.


The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will also be done.

Images may be taken of the breast. This can be done with:

  • Mammogram
  • Ultrasound
  • MRI scan

A biopsy will be done to remove a sample of tissue. It will be checked for cancer cells. If cancer is found, the tissue will also be tested to look for:

  • Hormone receptors
  • HER2 gene—suggests an advanced form of cancer

Diagnosis is confirmed by the tests. The exam and test results are also used for staging. Staging outlines how far and fast cancer has spread.



Early diagnosis and treatment are important. The sooner it is found, the better the outcome. Treatment depends on the stage of the cancer.

Treatment may include one or more of the following:

  • Chemotherapy by mouth, injection, or IV—to kill cancer cells
  • Modified radical mastectomy—surgery to remove the whole breast and lymph nodes
  • Radiation therapy—to kill cancer cells or prevent the cancer from coming back
  • Hormone therapy—drugs to kill cancer cells that have hormone receptors
  • Targeted therapy—drugs that target cancers with the HER2 gene


The risk of breast cancer may be reduced by:

  • Regular physical activity and a healthful diet
  • Reaching and keeping a healthy weight
  • Not drinking alcohol—or limiting it to:
    • 1 drink or less per day for women
    • 2 drinks per day or less for men.
  • Having regular breast cancer screening
  • Surgery to remove the breasts, uterus, and ovaries before cancer develops—for women with a very high risk

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

Edits to original content made by Denver Health.