Inflammatory Breast Cancer

(IBC; Inflammatory Carcinoma of the Breast; Inflammatory Breast Carcinoma)


Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) is a rare and aggressive form of breast cancer. It grows in a sheet-like shape.

Breast Changes Associated With IBC

Signs of IBC include skin that looks like the skin of an orange and retraction of the nipple.

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Cancer occurs when cells in the body split without control or order. These uncontrolled cells form a growth or tumor. The term cancer refers to growths that invade nearby tissues and spread to other parts of the body.

The cause of IBC is unknown.

Risk Factors

IBC is more common in women over 50 and women who are African American.

These factors may also increase risk:

  • Obesity
  • Increased breast density
  • Close family members with breast cancer


Normally, breast cancer cells create a tumor. IBC cells develop in a sheet-like pattern so you may not feel any lumps or masses.

Symptoms start quickly and 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.


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

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

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

The physical exam combined with all of your test results, will help to determine the stage of cancer you have. Staging is used to guide your treatment plan. Like other cancers, IBC is staged from 1-4. However, IBC is usually found in later stages, so it is staged using IIB, IIC, and IV. Stage IIB is cancer in the chest wall. IIC is cancer that has spread to the lymph nodes. IV is cancer that has spread to other parts of the body.


Talk with your doctor about the best plan for you. Early diagnosis and treatment are vital. The sooner it is found, the better the outcome.

Treatment may include one or more of the following:


Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. It may be given in many forms, such as pill, injection, and by IV. The drugs travel through the body in the blood, killing mostly cancer cells. Some healthy cells are killed as well.


You may need a modified radical mastectomy. This involves removal of the whole breast, lymph nodes under the arm, and the lining over the chest muscles under the breast.


Radiation therapy is the use of radiation to kill cancer cells. It may be used:

  • After a mastectomy to reduce the chance of the cancer coming back
  • Before surgery to shrink cancer cells that chemotherapy can’t shrink (rare)


There are other factors that can affect treatment such as:

  • Hormone receptors—Some cancers have hormone receptors attached to them. Certain medicines can target them to help control or kill the cancer.
  • HER2—Cancers with the HER2 gene tend to be more aggressive. Certain medicines may be effective against HER2-positive cancer.


Measures to prevent breast cancer include: .

  • Exercise regularly.
  • Eat a healthful diet.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Avoid or limit alcohol. This means 1 drink or less a day for women and 2 drinks a day or less for men.
  • Follow your doctor’s guidelines for regular breast cancer screening.
  • Surgery may be an option for women with a very high risk of breast cancer. These surgeries may be done before cancer develops:
    • Prophylactic mastectomy to remove breasts
    • Hysterectomy and oophorectomy to remove the uterus and ovaries

American Cancer Society

Cancer Care


Canadian Breast Cancer Network

Canadian Cancer Society


Breast cancer in women. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: Updated January 23, 2018. Accessed January 29, 2018.

Dawood S, Merajver SD, Viens P, et al. International expert panel on inflammatory breast cancer: consensus statement for standardized diagnosis and treatment. Ann Oncol. 2011;22(3):515-523.

Inflammatory breast cancer. National Breast Cancer Foundation website. Accessed January 29, 2018.

Inflammatory breast cancer. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: Updated January 6, 2016. Accessed January 29, 2017.

Treatment of inflammatory breast cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: Updated August 18, 2016. Accessed January 29, 2018.

Last reviewed November 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP  Last Updated: 5/21/2018