Pain, Itching Part of Rare Breast Cancer

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Most women associate breast cancer with a lump, but there are other ways that the disease can manifest itself.

Millions of people didn't know about a rare form of cancer called Inflammatory Breast Cancer -- IBC -- until Michelle Esteban from ABC's Seattle affiliate KOMO-TV shined a light on the difficulties of diagnosis.

"It's just so sad," she said. "Every woman that I've interviewed who has been diagnosed with Inflammatory Breast Cancer never heard of it until she got it."

Pain, Warmth, Itching

After running the story in May, KOMO's Web site was flooded with an overwhelming 14 million hits, the most in its history.

Viewers e-mailed their friends and family, urging them to watch the report and learn more about the little-known form of breast cancer that shows itself with untraditional symptoms.

"There is no tumor. But there often is a red rash. There can be itching. The breast can swell. … It can be hot to the touch. There can be stabbing pain," Esteban said.

The redness and warmth are caused by cancer cells blocking the lymph vessels in the skin. The skin of the breast may also appear pink, reddish-purple, or bruised and appear pitted, like the skin of an orange.

Other symptoms include heaviness, burning, aching, increase in breast size, and tenderness.

These symptoms usually develop quickly, over a period of days or weeks. Swollen lymph nodes may also be present.

Because it lacks the typical telltale sign of a lump, mammograms and self-breast exams rarely detect this very aggressive form of cancer.

IBC catches victims off guard and in many cases, is a silent killer.

"If I had heard of it prior, I probably would have been more suspect that something was wrong rather than just young and dumb," said IBC victim Kristine Turck.

How to Protect Yourself

Dr. Susan Manzi talked with ABC News' Diane Sawyer about IBC and discussed what women could do to protect themselves from nontraditional breast cancers.

Manzi emphasized that IBC is very rare, accounting for between 1 and 5 percent of all breast cancer cases in the United States. But she urged women to be aware of changes in their bodies.

"Not all breast cancers are painless lumps, and not all of them can be detected by mammograms," Manzi said.

A diagnosis is not a death sentence. Treatment is usually chemotherapy, followed by surgery and/or radiation.

Manzi said that while the medical community knows about IBC, women must be their own advocates.

"Again, these symptoms are ones, which come on quickly," she said. "So if you have them and they are not going away, this is something you should ask your doctor about, keeping in mind that inflammatory breast cancer is rare."

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