Inflammatory Breast Cancer | Symptoms, Stages, Diagnosis, Treatment & survival rates

Diagnosis of inflammatory breast cancer

Traditionally, diagnosis of any tumor begins with one or more radiological studies. These include the chest x-ray, where waves of electromagnetic radiation penetrate the chest and thus create an image on a radiographic film delineating the various structures, normal and abnormal, present in the chest.

Another method of radiological examination is a CT (Computed Tomography) scan, where the chest is photographed at multiple levels or “slices”, so that the radiologist can visualize all structures present at every level. This is sometimes combined with a PET (Positron emission tomography) scan to detect cancer deposits in the nearby lymph nodes.

The fourth modality is an MRI (Magnetic resonance imaging) scan, which is the most accurate, safest but most expensive one. It uses powerful magnets to create a superbly detailed image of the examined body part.

A special type of radiography, created specifically for diseases of the breast, is the mammogram. In this method, the breast in question is isolated and compressed between two curved plastic plates in order to flatten it and thin out the breast tissue, allowing for more effective penetration by the x-rays. The radiation beams are fired from multiple angles as well to create a more accurate and comprehensive image. Mammograms are safe, cheap, effective, and available everywhere. They do sometimes cause a bit of discomfort when the breast is being compressed, but this is usually mild and will often disappear quickly. A more advanced technique in mammography is the 3D mammogram, where the breast is not just photographed from two angles. Instead, the camera used revolves around the diseased breast, shooting electromagnetic radiation waves from all directions. This results in a slightly higher dose of radiation being received by the patient, but it usually isn’t an issue and the resulting image has a very high level of detail.

A breast ultrasound may be performed as well, which uses a probe that sends out ultrasonic waves to check for any abnormal structures.

However, inflammatory breast cancer is particularly tricky to diagnose with radiography alone. The methods listed above may suggest the disease by showing suspicious signs, but the only way to get a sure diagnosis is through a biopsy.

A tissue biopsy is a procedure where the surgeon extracts a part or all of a suspected tumor. This is often done using a needle and may be combined with an ultrasound or a CT scan for added accuracy. In some cases, however, the tumor may need an incision in order to get a biopsy. After a suitable amount of tissue is obtained, it is stained and put on a glass slide for microscopic examination. This will determine the histological subtype of the breast cancer as well as its grade, which describes how abnormal the cells look. Both factors are very important in the line(s) of treatment used, the prognosis, the survival rate, and the estimated life expectancy.