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What is inflammatory breast cancer?

Inflammatory breast cancer is a rare form of invasive breast cancer that affects the lymphatic vessels in the skin of the breast, causing the breast to become red and inflamed.

Unlike other breast cancers that form a lump, inflammatory breast cancer spreads along and blocks the lymphatic vessels in the skin of the breast.

Lymphatic vessels are responsible for removing fluid and other waste products from the body’s tissues to help prevent infections. When the lymphatic vessels become blocked, the breast becomes red and swollen, similar to an infection. It’s this appearance that gives inflammatory breast cancer its name. Find out more about the lymphatic system.

How common is inflammatory breast cancer?

Each year, around 1–2% of the 13,000 women diagnosed with breast cancer will be diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer.

What are the signs of inflammatory breast cancer?

Signs of inflammatory breast cancer can develop quickly and may include:
 

  • the breast looks red or inflamed or develops a rash – it often looks as if it’s infected or bruised
  • the breast becomes swollen and enlarged and may feel heavy or uncomfortable
  • the breast feels warm and tender
  • skin on the breast can appear dimpled or pitted, like an orange peel.

Some people may also have a lump in their breast or armpit, pain in the breast or nipple, discharge from the nipple or a nipple that turns inwards (inverted nipple).

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