Patients with inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) — a rare, aggressive and often misdiagnosed form of the disease — have new hope, thanks to a new treatment option in San Diego. Scripps MD Anderson Cancer Center has opened the region’s first dedicated IBC clinic at its Torrey Pines facility and has already begun seeing patients from across California and beyond.
“IBC differs greatly from other forms of breast cancer in a number of ways, so it requires a dedicated approach that focuses on a unique set of challenges,” says Scripps Clinic radiation oncologist Thomas Buchholz, MD, who cofounded the world’s first IBC clinic at MD Anderson Cancer Center. One of the most experienced radiation oncologists in the field when it comes to treating and researching IBC, Dr. Buchholz is the medical director of Scripps MD Anderson and leads the IBC clinic.
Inflammatory breast cancer is a biologically distinct subtype of breast cancer that is characterized by rapid onset and aggressive growth. It causes redness and swelling of the skin of the breast due to the inflammatory breast cancer cells invading and obstructing the lymphatic channels in the skin of the breast.
According to the National Cancer Institute, several features make IBC unique compared to other types of breast cancer:
- It’s usually diagnosed at a younger age
- It’s more common in African-American women than white women
- Tumors are often “hormone receptor negative,” meaning they don’t respond to hormone therapies like tamoxifen
- Often, no lump can be felt during a physical exam or seen in a screening mammogram
- It’s so aggressive, it may develop and spread between annual screening mammograms
Because IBC blocks lymph vessels, causing fluid build-up, symptoms include swelling and redness that affect at least a third of the breast. Other signs of IBC include:
- Breast swelling that appears suddenly with one breast much larger than the other
- Itching of the breast
- Pink, red, or dark colored area on the breast, sometimes with a dimpling of the breast skin that looks like an orange peel (called peau d’orange)
- Ridges and thickened areas of the skin on the breast
- Breast that feels warm to the touch
- Flattened or retracted nipple
- Breast pain or tenderness
Dr. Buchholz says IBC is often hard to diagnose and it can spread fast — so it’s critical that patients receive prompt treatment from experienced specialists working together as an integrated team.
The clinic’s specialized, multidisciplinary teams include Scripps experts in medical oncology, surgery, radiation oncology, pathology and radiology. They work together to personalize each patient’s treatment plan. Scripps physicians also play an active role in raising awareness of IBC in the community.