(COLUMBUS, Ohio) – While monthly self-exams are critical to identifying lumps that indicate the presence of breast cancer, not all cancers begin with a lump. A new national consumer survey, commissioned by The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James), found that most women are unaware of the unusual symptoms of a particularly aggressive and deadly form of the disease called inflammatory breast cancer.
“The disease tends to grow rapidly compared to other types of cancer and even with treatment, it tends to recur or come back more often than other types of cancer,” said Dr. Ko Un Park, surgical oncologist at OSUCCC–James. “That’s why it is so important to recognize the symptoms and bring them to your doctor’s attention so there are no delays in treatment. But unlike other forms of breast cancer, inflammatory breast cancer rarely begins with a lump, but with certain skin conditions.”
The survey found that while nearly 4 in 5 women (78%) recognize a lump in the breast as a sign of breast cancer, less than half of women would flag redness of the breast (44%), thickening of the skin (44%) or one breast feeling warmer and heavier than the other (34%) as possible symptoms. By the time these symptoms appear, the cancer is already in an advanced stage of disease, and can still be mistaken for an infection before a proper diagnosis is made.
“Mammograms and ultrasounds may not show an obvious target to biopsy, requiring a more sensitive exam like a breast MRI to help with the diagnosis,” said Park. “These factors can further delay the diagnosis and treatment of inflammatory breast cancer. Women with a higher risk should discuss with their physicians not only screening mammography, but also potentially the need to expand that screening with additional imaging, such as a breast MRI.”
The OSUCCC – James has a multidisciplinary inflammatory breast cancer team that includes surgical, medical and radiation oncologists, as well as breast radiologists, plastic/reconstructive surgeons, physical therapists and nurses who have designed a formal best-practice clinical decision tree to help the OSUCCC – James medical team triage and rapidly respond to potential inflammatory breast cancer cases.
“Our goal is to push these patients to the front of the line, rapidly mobilizing a treatment plan so that therapy can begin as soon as possible,” Park said. “The team is working with primary care and obstetricians/gynecologists to bring more awareness to this disease and the nuances of diagnosing and treating it.”
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