Fast Five Quiz: Red Flags for Breast Cancer

Kelly McCann, MD, PhD


February 02, 2022

Inflammatory breast cancer is a clinical diagnosis that requires urgent workup and treatment. In up to 30% of cases, patients may present with a rapidly enlarging, erythematous breast without an underlying palpable mass. Usually, there is a spreading color change in one breast, typically evolving from pink to darker red in a mottled pattern. Red-flag warning signs of inflammatory breast cancer in a patient with a red breast include previous history of breast cancer, symptoms of mastitis in a nonlactating woman, and palpable adenopathy. Immediate referral to medical and surgical oncologists is essential in such cases. Because it is common for women with inflammatory breast cancer to have metastatic disease at the time of diagnosis, inflammatory breast cancer should be staged with full-body imaging, such as PET-CT or CT of the chest, abdomen, and pelvis, plus bone scan. If it is not metastatic, inflammatory breast cancer is treated with chemotherapy to reduce the extent of disease prior to surgery.

This cancer type spreads through the dermal lymphatics; axillary adenopathy may or may not be present. Patients do not usually experience fever. Crusting and retraction of nipples may or may not occur.

Learn more about the histology of inflammatory breast cancer.


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