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Inflammatory Breast Cancer: Visual Clinical Symptoms

In this patient's own words:

In doing my breast exam January 4, my left breast felt a bit fuller than my right one. But no lumps. The next morning - my left breast was still red - I thought I'd just squezed too hard. Two days later it was still red, I called the doctor. He sent me for a mammogram and sonogram. Nothing. After three weeks, the left breast was still red and a bit larger, so I went to a breast surgeon friend of mine - along with the mamogram and sonogram pictures, He said: "Dr. [XXX] is right - I see nothing; however let me give you a week of antibiotics in case you've got mastitis, and let's schedule you for an MRI, then we'll be absolutely sure."

The MRI found cancer in the left lymph node, the radiologist took a biopsy of the node plus the breast, inflammatory breast cancer in both places. The diagnosis came March 1, almost two months after finding it, but the doctors say that the symptoms were so slight: we couldn't have found it any earlier. I am estrogen negative, progestron negative, and Her2 positive so the Herceptin works for me.

I'm taking two chemos plus herceptin for 4-6 treatments - herceptin every week and surgery to remove the breast in July. At present, they are saying after surgery more chemo, then radiation. This is really an aggressive cancer and I feel really lucky to have found it so soon. The doctors are all encouraged that they will be able to make me cancer free in a year.

What you see in the picture:

  1. the breast has a red ring around it.
  2. The nipple area is a bit rough and slight yellow discharge
  3. The arm pit node is right in the middle and difficult to find but before the first treatment it was about the size of a hazelnut.

Since the first Chemo, the redness has diminished, the lymph node is almost normal, and the size of the breast is smaller - so it's at least hitting the right places!

Enlarged right breast with nipple retraction. Peau d' orange on underside of breast not visible in the photo above is shown in the next photo.

Peau d'orange on underside of breast, not visible when standing.  The small irregular red spot at the 11 o'clock position in this photo is the scar remaining from a skin biopsy, not a symptom of inflammatory breast cancer.  While standing it may be necessary to use a hand mirror to determine if peau d'orange may be found on the underside of the breast.

"axillary venous thrombosis":  blood clots in small veins in the armpit due to breast cancer.  These "cords" disappeared during chemotherapy treatment.

Peau d'orange of a different shape, color and texture than shown in the earlier example, and involving part of the areola.

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Last update: August 2001.