A common symptom could be a sign of an aggressive cancer
Did you know a small rash could be a sign of breast cancer? While most women are quite familiar with the importance of performing self-breast exams and checking for lumps or changes, breast cancer doesn’t always reveal itself in that way.
In fact, one rare and aggressive form of breast cancer, called inflammatory breast cancer, often presents in a very different way. Inflammatory breast cancer, known as IBC, presents as a red swollen breast that worsens relatively quickly. IBC causes skin changes which often look like a rash. It’s called inflammatory because the breast often looks inflamed or red and swollen.
“Inflammatory breast cancer can look like a breast infection and is often treated with several courses of antibiotics before being diagnosed as breast cancer,” says Dr. Heidi Memmel, co-medical director of the Caldwell Breast Center and breast surgeon at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill. “A breast infection should start to improve with just one to two days of antibiotics, though, so if it does not, a mammogram and ultrasound should be performed.”
Women affected by IBC are typically younger, and this type of cancer is more common in African-American women and women who are obese.
According to the National Cancer Institute, IBC only accounts for one to five percent of all breast cancers diagnosed in the United States. This type of cancer progresses rapidly, and most IBC cases are diagnosed at either stage III or IV.
Because IBC is often confused with a skin infection, it’s important to recognize the symptoms, says Dr. Memmel.
Those symptoms include:
- Redness across more than a third of the breast
- Swelling of the breast
- A thickened orange-peel texture of the skin
- Redness that worsens within a matter of days or weeks
When doing a self-breast exam, Dr. Memmel notes a couple vital points.
“It’s important to look at oneself in front of the mirror with the arms stretched up to the ceiling,” she explains. “Look for any changes in shape of the breast, or any skin dimpling, especially on the undersurface of the breasts. Then place your hands on your hips and squeeze inwards, flexing the pectoralis muscles, again looking for dimpling of the skin. Also, examine the texture of the breast tissue with the fingers, from the collarbone down the base and up to the underarms.”
The best time to do breast exams each month is right after one’s menstrual period, she says, as the breasts are usually the least lumpy at that time.
About the Author
Jacqueline Hughes is a former manager, media relations at Advocate Aurora Health. Previously, she was the public affairs and marketing manager at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, IL. She earned her BA in psychology at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. Jackie has 10 plus years experience working in television and media and most recently worked at NBC 5 in Chicago. In her free time, she enjoys swimming, going to the movies and spending time with her family.