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As we discussed in No Lump Doesn’t Mean No Breast Cancer, not all forms of breast cancer present with an obvious lump. Lumps aren’t usually physically apparent with Inflammatory Breast Cancer, which is a rare but aggressive form of breast cancer.

Cancer cells in Inflammatory Breast Cancer block lymph vessels in the skin of the breast, resulting in “inflammatory” symptoms such as swelling or redness. The redness may range from pink to reddish purple, and the breast may also appear bruised. In addition, the skin may appear to be dimpled or pitted, like the surface of an orange. Sometimes a solid tumor can be detected during a physical exam, but most often a tumor can’t be felt.

A quick increase in breast size, sensations of heaviness, hardness, tenderness, or burning, or an inverted nipple can also be symptoms of Inflammatory Breast Cancer. Because lymph fluid isn’t flowing freely, Inflammatory Breast Cancer may also cause swollen lymph nodes under the arm and/or near the collarbone.

The best way to monitor for breast cancer, aside from regularly-scheduled mammograms, is to pay attention to any changes in your breasts, such as:

  • Swelling of the breast
  • Hardening of the breast
  • Redness of the breast, especially over a large area
  • Dimpling or pitting, scaliness, or thickening of the skin or nipple.
  • Breast or nipple pain
  • Nipple discharge that is bloody
  • Nipple turning inwards
  • Swollen lymph nodes

Having any of these symptoms doesn’t mean it’s a given that you have breast cancer. Breast infections (mastitis) also cause similar inflammatory symptoms and fibrocystic changes of the breast can cause breast pain. However, if your symptoms persist for over a week despite treatment, especially if your breast remains red and looks like it has an infection, then Inflammatory Breast Cancer needs to be ruled out.

An experienced breast surgeon will usually be able to distinguish between mastitis and Inflammatory Breast Cancer with a physical examination. If the clinical breast exam indicates Inflammatory Breast Cancer, a small skin biopsy will be performed to confirm the presence of cancer cells. If the diagnosis is Inflammatory Breast Cancer, treatment will need to be aggressive since this type of cancer progresses rapidly.

Don’t ignore any symptoms or changes in your breasts simply because you don’t feel a lump, and be sure to stick to regularly scheduled annual mammograms. If you detect changes in your breast, or if you’d like to discuss the most successful surgical treatments for your breast cancer, consult with Dr. Aaron Margulies.

Dr. Margulies is committed to serving breast cancer patients through his solo practice in Breast Surgical Oncology and General Surgery at offices at Tennova Turkey Creek Medical Center in West Knoxville, at Tennova North Knoxville Medical Center in Powell, at Jefferson Memorial Hospital, and in Newport. His extensive research and expertise have distinguished him as a leader in the field of breast cancer surgical oncology. To learn more about Dr. Margulies’ compassionate surgical care approach, visit www.aaronmd.com or call (865) 692-1610.