October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and a new national 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 known as inflammatory breast cancer.
The survey – which was conducted online among 1,100 U.S women ages 18 and older – revealed that while 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%), pitting/thickening of the skin (44%), or one breast feeling warmer or heavier than the other (34%) as possible symptoms of breast cancer; specifically, the rare and highly aggressive form of the disease known as inflammatory breast cancer.
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The disease can occur in any part of the breast and in any molecular sub-form of the disease. It is often misdiagnosed because it mimics symptoms similar to a breast infection. Those signs include:
- an orange peel-like texture or dimpling of skin;
- feeling of heaviness;
- tightening of the skin;
- engorgement of the breast; and
- infection-like redness.
“Women should know that radical changes to the breast are not normal, and breast self-exams are still very important. Some 50% of inflammatory breast cancers are diagnosed as stage 4 disease,” said Dr. Ko Un Park, a surgical oncologist who leads a new Inflammatory Breast Cancer Program at the OSUCCC – James’ Stefanie Spielman Comprehensive Breast Center. “It is important for women to recognize changes in both the appearance and feel of their breasts so that changes can be discussed quickly with a physician.”
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She notes that even in the medical community, physicians and providers are not accustomed to thinking about a red breast as a sign associated with inflammatory breast cancer because it is such a rare disease.
“Although inflammatory breast cancer only represents 1% to 5% of all breast cancers in the United States, it is a sneaky disease and challenging to diagnose. It is critical that clinicians have a high level of familiarity with its subtle signs and be prepared to take immediate action to avoid belated diagnosis,” Dr. Park said.
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With leadership from Park and breast radiologist Dr. Amy Kerger, the OSUCCC – James has created an inflammatory breast cancer multidisciplinary team that includes surgical, medical and radiation oncologists, as well as breast radiologists, plastic/reconstructive surgeons, physical therapists and nurses. The effort has led to implementation of a formal best-practice clinical decision tree to help the OSUCCC – James medical team triage and rapidly respond to potential inflammatory breast cancer cases.
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“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,” Dr. Park said. The team is working with primary care and obstetricians/gynecologists to bring more awareness of this disease and the nuances of diagnosing and treating it.
To learn more about breast cancer treatment at the OSUCCC – James, visit cancer.osu.edu/breastcancer.
This survey was conducted online within the United States by The Harris Poll on behalf of The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center from September 22-26, 2022, among 2,044 U.S. adults ages 18+ among 1,100 of whom are women. The sampling precision of Harris online polls is measured by using a Bayesian credible interval. For this study, the sample data is accurate to within +/- 2.8 percentage points using a 95% confidence level. For complete survey methodology, including weighting variables and subgroup sample sizes, please contact Amanda.Harper2@osumc.edu.
Originally published October 12, 2022 by EurekAlert!