According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is second only to skin cancer as the most common cancer among American women. With a one in eight chance that women in the U.S. will develop invasive breast cancer, early detection has emerged as a life-saving practice. Although not particularly common, inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) is a type of breast cancer that often goes unrecognized until it is in the later stages.
Especially because an estimated 46 million Americans are living without healthcare coverage, there is a great need for educating the public on recognizing the early signs of cancer. While they may not have a primary physician to ask health-related questions of, many who are uninsured will receive a periodic massage. Thus, bodyworkers may be the only healthcare professional accessible to someone with symptoms that could potentially indicate cancer. Massage therapists are not qualified nor are they equipped to diagnose cancer. However, knowing what symptoms represent cancerous red flags can prompt an important referral.
When it comes to educating the public about detecting breast cancer early, great strides have been made. Scanning for lumps via a breast self-exam is the focus of the breast cancer awareness campaign; however, IBC is not characterized by a lump. If familiar with IBC’s signs, a massage therapist could be the first to notice that a client is at risk. By advising clients that their breast tissue anomaly may be cause for concern, massage therapists could facilitate an IBC diagnosis at an earlier stage than would have occurred without their intervention.
While it is rare, inflammatory breast cancer is a very aggressive type of breast cancer, in which the cancer cells block the breast’s lymph vessels. Accounting for one to five percent of all breast cancer cases in the United States, IBC is usually diagnosed in women younger than non-IBC breast cancer.
An advanced and accelerated form of breast cancer usually not detected by mammograms or ultrasounds, IBC requires immediate aggressive treatment and is treated differently than more common types of breast cancer. Inflammatory breast cancer usually grows in nests or sheets, rather than as a confined, solid tumor and therefore can be diffused throughout the breast with no palpable mass.
Because it can occur without a lump, practitioners should be familiar with the following symptoms typical of IBC:
- Heat – A breast that is warm or occasionally hot to the touch.
- Dimpled – The breast and its surrounding skin can take on a dimpled appearance, looking like an orange peel. This texture is not a result of being overweight.
- Nipple Inversion – A nipple that is flat or inverted can indicate IBC, except if an inverted nipple has existed since birth.
- Breast Discoloration – The skin of the breast may appear pink, reddish-purple or bruised.
Other symptoms that could indicate IBC include heaviness, burning, aching, increase in breast size or tenderness that persist throughout a woman’s cycle.
Not a Breast Infection
Usually developing quickly, IBC’s symptoms may lead people to guess they have a breast infection. Although IBC is commonly mistaken for a breast infection, its symptoms won’t go away with antibiotics. Unfortunately, many women (especially those without health insurance) will forego medical assistance and use home remedies to try and quell the discomfort of an assumed breast infection. This is probably the most common reason that IBC goes undiagnosed for so long, making it a much harder cancer to treat.
By being familiar with the symptoms of IBC, massage therapists can serve as public health educators to their potentially affected clients. So, the next time a client asks if you do any kind of massage to help speed the healing of a breast infection, ask more questions. Clients who have self-diagnosed themselves with a breast infection or who have IBC symptoms that have not responded to antibiotics must be evaluated by a physician. Even if your clients do not have health insurance, make sure to share with them what you now know about IBC.