Symptoms of Inflammatory Breast Cancer

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Symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer are different from other types of breast cancer. Instead of a lump, inflammatory breast cancer is characterized by an increase in breast size, sudden changes in the appearance of the breast or nipple, or pain and warmth in the breast.

This article will detail the common symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer.

Doctor discussing imaging results with breast cancer patient

Maskot / Getty Images

What Is Inflammatory Breast Cancer?

Inflammatory breast cancer is very different from other types of breast cancer. It tends to occur in younger women (under age 40) and can spread more quickly.

Inflammatory breast cancer is rare and only accounts for 1%–5% of all breast cancer diagnoses. However, it can be more serious than other breast cancers and is more likely to spread to other body parts by the time it is diagnosed. For this reason, it's very important to report any concerns to your healthcare provider as soon as possible to ensure the best possible treatment.

Similar Symptoms

If you notice any changes in your breasts, call your healthcare provider right away. Many symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer are similar to symptoms of other breast conditions, including infections like mastitis, which may require antibiotics.

Symptoms of Inflammatory Breast Cancer

There are specific symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer to watch out for, including changes in breast appearance, warmth, pain, skin dimpling, and more.

Rapid Change in Breast Appearance

Sudden changes in the appearance of the breast can include size, shape, color, or texture. At times, these changes can happen rapidly over the course of just a few weeks.

Associated changes might include:

  • Breast enlargement on one side
  • Red, purple, pink, or bruised appearance in the breast
  • Thickness or heaviness in one breast

Breast Warmth

Increased swelling can lead to a feeling of warmth in the affected breast. This is also a common symptom of a breast infection that may require antibiotics. It's important to discuss this symptom with your healthcare provider as soon as possible.

Pain and Tenderness

Any painful or uncomfortable symptoms, especially if they only occur in one breast and are not associated with menstrual cycle changes, may be cause for concern.

These sensations may include:

Enlarged Lymph Nodes

Lymph nodes are part of the body's immune system. These bean-shaped structures filter fluids that contain bacteria, viruses, or cancer cells. When lymph nodes have to work extra hard to filter out problematic cells, they can swell.

The location of swollen lymph nodes may provide clues about what part of the body is under attack. In inflammatory breast cancer, lymph nodes may swell on the chest, under the arm, or around the collarbone on the affected side.

Dimpling of the Skin

One of the hallmarks of inflammatory breast cancer includes dimpling of the skin, like an orange peel (also known as peau d'orange). This bumpy, pitted texture is caused when the lymph nodes in the breast and arm are blocked, leading to a backup of fluid in the breast. As the fluid grows, swelling and edema may develop.

Changes in Nipple Shape

Swelling in the breast related to a backup of lymph fluid can cause the nipple to change shape. It may flatten or invert (turn inward).

Mammograms and Inflammatory Breast Cancer

Inflammatory breast cancer typically does not appear on a routine mammogram because breast masses are not a common symptom. Be sure to report any symptoms to your healthcare provider as soon as possible, even if you recently had a mammogram.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

Any changes in breast size, shape, appearance, texture, or sensation should be reported to your healthcare provider immediately.

While inflammatory breast cancer is rare, it is generally more advanced when diagnosed and has a higher rate of recurrence once treated. Early detection and treatment are crucial to ensure the best outcome.

Many inflammatory breast cancer symptoms are associated with other breast conditions, like mastitis, abscesses, or benign (noncancerous) masses. Depending on the cause, a standard course of antibiotics or other medical treatment can clear up symptoms quickly.


Inflammatory breast cancer is unlike other forms of breast cancer. It usually does not involve a lump or mass in the breast. Symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer can also develop quickly over weeks or months.

Changes in breast size or appearance, pain or tenderness, enlarged lymph nodes, or changes in the skin texture or nipple appearance are common symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer. If you notice these symptoms, speak to your healthcare provider immediately.

A Word From Verywell

While there are some risk factors that you cannot change, some lifestyle changes can reduce the risk of developing cancer. These include maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding alcohol and smoking, and staying physically active. If you have concerns about your breast cancer risk or if you notice any changes to your breasts, be sure to speak to your healthcare provider as soon as possible.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Cancer Society. Inflammatory breast cancer.

  2. National Cancer Institute. Inflammatory breast cancer.

  3. Bodine AM, Holahan B, Mixon A. Benign breast conditionsJ Am Osteopath Assoc. 2017;117(12):755-760. doi:10.7556/jaoa.2017.147

  4. American Cancer Society. Lymph nodes and cancer.

  5. Balema W, Liu D, Shen Y, et al. Inflammatory breast cancer appearance at presentation is associated with overall survival. Cancer Med. 2021;10(18):6261-6272. doi:10.1002/cam4.4170

By Elizabeth Morrill, RN
Elizabeth Morrill is a former ER nurse and current nurse writer specializing in health content for businesses, patients, and healthcare providers. Her career has spanned the globe, from Bosnia-Herzegovina to Colombia to Guatemala. You can find her online at