During a self-breast examination, most women will probably search for a lump on either side of their breast as a sign of breast cancer. Although this is usually a good indicator of cancerous growth, it is just one of many signs that can possibly point to breast cancer. Other signs and some symptoms of breast cancer may include itchy breasts, pain around the upper back and shoulder, a change in nipple size and appearance, sensitivity, and skin dimples around the breast. Skin dimples around the breast, particularly, is a clear indication of a specific type of cancer: inflammatory breast cancer.
What is Inflammatory Breast Cancer?
Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) is an aggressive type of cancer that manifests when abnormal cells block the lymphatic tubes of the skin on the breast. Inflammatory breast cancer begins with the multiplication of an abnormal cell that grows and divides rapidly. These cells then accumulate and block the lymph nodes, causing the lymphatic fluids to build up and cause inflammation.
This type of cancer develops rapidly and makes the ailing region look red and swollen. The breast also becomes tender and unusually warm. Inflammatory breast cancer spreads from one point of origin to other nearby tissues and potentially to the lymph nodes. Due to this rapid progression, inflammatory breast cancer symptoms and signs also develop rapidly. But it is easy to confuse some inflammatory breast cancer signs with breast infections. One classic sign of this breast cancer is skin dimpling.
Skin dimpling or puckering of the breast skin is a condition that manifests when a tumor grows on the upper layer or underneath the skin, physically pulling parts of the skin inwards. The tumor also blocks the lymphatic system and causes a buildup of lymphatic fluids. This buildup creates an inflammatory reaction that pulls the skin inwards. Essentially, skin dimples may be small and very hard to see, but they are a possible sign of the early stages of inflammatory breast cancer.
Common Causes of Skin Dimpling
The main cause of skin dimpling is inflammation. However, skin dimpling is not always necessarily a result of inflammatory breast cancer. Other causes of skin dimpling are:
Fat necrosis: This is a condition that arises not due to breast cancer but still causes skin dimples. Fat necrosis occurs when a fatty tissue in the breast becomes damaged and ultimately dies. This may result in a lump that you can easily mistake for a cancerous growth. If the fat necrosis develops near the skin surface, it makes the skin appear pitted with dimples.
Breast lymphadenopathy: This condition occurs when the lymph nodes expand and swell due to the movement of cells into the nodes. The cells block the tubes and create a fluid buildup. This, in turn, causes dimpling of the skin on the affected area and a swollen breast and arm on that side of the body.
Breast ulcers: A breast ulcer is a round, red, and sore area on the breast that may discharge small amounts of pus at times. A breast ulcer can cause skin dimpling and may also be a symptom of stage 4 breast cancer.
Other Inflammatory Breast Cancer Symptoms and Signs
An inflammatory breast cancer is a type of cancer that does not commonly form a lump on the breast, but it has some noticeable signs and symptoms. Some inflammatory breast cancer signs and symptoms include:
- A change in the appearance and size of your breast over a quick period of time.
- A thickness or visible enlargement of one side of the breast.
- Skin discoloration – purple, red, or pink with a bruised appearance.
- Unusual and periodical warmth on the affected breast.
- Enlarged lymph nodes under the arms and above or below the collarbone.
- A burning sensation and pain on the affected breast.
- The breast may become tender with a flattened or inverted nipple.
Apart from these observations, there are other tests that can ascertain the condition. If you notice any breast cancer symptoms, you can consult with your doctor to get a mammogram, an ultrasound, or a biopsy for definitive answers.
An inflammatory breast cancer has always been easy to diagnose. The treatment of this condition depends on the severity of the tumor. With early detection, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and/or surgery can all be effective treatments. Targeted therapy and hormonal therapy can also be administered to control the condition.