Can you explain how inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) is different from mastitis?

I've heard that some doctors miss or delay a diagnosis of IBC.

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Expert Answers

naotoueno (Physician - Oncology - Hematology/Oncology (Verified) ) - 09 / 30 / 2011

I am an IBC specialist at MD Anderson Cancer Center. Indeed inflammatory breast cancer could appear like mastitis. Therefore, we recommend to make sure that primary care physician will suspect IBC if the antibiotics does not work. Getting the biopsy and going to IBC specialized clinic is very important.
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member978 (Survivor (10 - 20 years)) - 09 / 29 / 2011

The symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) and mastitis, a breast infection, are very similar. The breast is warm to touch, redness or red streaks in the skin, pain, and swelling. Mastitis is more common in breast feeding women and is treated with an antibiotic. Usually mastitis responds to antibiotic treatment but symptoms of IBC will get progressively worse quickly.

If a woman presents with the symptoms listed above, it is reasonable to treat with 7 days of antibiotic in hopes that it is an infection. However, if the symptoms do not completely resolve in those 7 days of treatment, it is time to see a breast specialist (usually a breast surgeon) to rule out IBC. Unfortunately some physicians will keep prescribing different antibiotics over the course of many weeks, delaying diagnosis and proper treatment.

Dr. Robert W. Carlson of Stanford Univ. and Chair of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) Breast Cancer Panel, put it this way:
"Any cellulitis (swelling/redness) of the breast that occurs in a non-gravid (not pregnant), non-lactating (not breast-feeding) woman should be assumed to be inflammatory brest cancer until biopsy proves otherwise."
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