The Secret Cancer: Inflammatory Breast Cancer
"I never heard of it. I was shocked at the diagnosis," said 29-year-old Melanie Decker of Waupun, Wisconsin.
"In September of 2008, I just had my daughter and was breastfeeding," said Decker, who was diagnosed in April of this year. "My obstetrician and lactation nurse thought the symptoms I had developed were from breastfeeding. But the symptoms continued, and worsened for seven months before I was diagnosed."
"Inflammatory breast cancer is associated with signs and symptoms that are not the same as the classic breast-cancer symptoms that women learn about," said Dr. Kari Wisinski (pictured), medical oncologist at the University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center's Breast Center. Decker's case was stage III (locally advanced).
Wisinski says a distinct lump in the breast may not be present in women with inflammatory breast cancer. It is diagnosed based on a biopsy showing cancer and on the appearance of the breast, including:
- Redness, swelling, and warmth in the breasts
- Skin which has ridges or appears pitted like the skin of an orange
- Inverted nipple
"In addition to women being aware of these signs of inflammatory breast cancer, medical professionals also need to be trained to recognize it," said Wisinski.
Inflammatory breast cancer accounts for less than 5 percent of breast cancers.
"If I would have had information about inflammatory breast cancer, I would have been more concerned about the symptoms and probably would have pushed my doctor to test it," said Decker.
Treatment for inflammatory breast cancer starts with chemotherapy and is usually followed by surgery and then radiation therapy. Targeted and/or endocrine therapy may also be used.
Decker recently completed chemotherapy and is scheduled for surgery at the end of September. Following surgery, Decker will undergo six weeks of daily radiation therapy.
"I refuse to let it beat me, "said Decker, who is celebrating her daughter McKenzie's first birthday this month.
Decker plans to write a book about her inflammatory breast cancer experience as a way to educate other women about it.
Date Published: 09/09/2009