Watching out for a rare form of cancer

Seven's On Call with Dr. Jay Adlersberg
October 3, 2008 3:38:32 PM PDT
October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, a time to supply women with information that will protect them.There is one type of breast cancer that women need to know more about, because sometimes even doctors misdiagnose it.

This is a rare and different kind of breast cancer, and that is why it is often mistaken for something not serious, something an antibiotic can cure. But that is not the case. It is called inflammatory breast cancer, and it's rare. But women need to know about it, because it is one cancer they themselves will be able to see, just by looking in the mirror.

Most of the time, a mammogram will find no evidence of this cancer inside the breast. That's because interior breast tissue often looks normal, says breast surgeon Dr. Kathie-Ann Joseph.

"Curiously, there's no lump or no mass inside the breast tissue at all," she said. "It's completely normal."

Inflammatory breast cancer begins on breast tissue or just under the skin, which is why it is often misdiagnosed as just a skin rash or an infection.

For survivor Bernadette Philbert, it all began with swelling on her left breast.

"I said I don't think there's anything serious, probably just just an inflammation of the breast," she said.

It was inflammation that was dismissed by one doctor, then diagnosed as cancer by Dr. Joseph.

"Oftentimes, by the time a patient comes to me, they've usually been treated as an infection of the breast," she said. "So they've been given antibiotics, and they may respond temporarily, and then it comes back."

It comes back again as swelling, or looking like a rash. At this point, tiny pieces of the skin are taken for a biopsy. The signs of this cancer are visual, different from the more common type of breast cancer, and women must not ignore them.

These include a breast that is red, warm and swollen. The skin may appear red, purple, bruised and rough, much like the skin of an orange. There may also be an inverted nipple.

"So if you see that where the entire breast is red, swollen, and skin is very thick, that is a sign you should go see a doctor," Dr. Joseph said. "That is not normal."

Bernadette has been responding to treatment.

"I went through it, but it was tough," she said.

We will have more about inflammatory breast cancer and its treatment, as well as much more on the latest advances in prevention, diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer in a special half hour report called Breast Cancer: New Thinking and New Therapies. It airs on WABC Saturday at 7:30 p.m.

To read the National Cancer Institute's "Understanding Breast Changes: A Health Guide for Women," CLICK HERE.

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STORY BY: Medical reporter Dr. Jay Adlersberg

WEB PRODUCED BY: Bill King

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