What are the histologic characteristics of inflammatory breast cancer (IBC)?

Updated: May 24, 2018
  • Author: Peter Abdelmessieh, DO, MSc; Chief Editor: Marie Catherine Lee, MD, FACS  more...
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Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) is a highly aggressive locally advanced breast cancer. It is rare, comprising only 1 to 5% of invasive breast cancers. Due to its aggressive nature, patients often have lymph node involvement and distant metastatic disease at the time of presentation. IBC is characterized by diffuse erythema and edema (peau d'orange) involving a third or more of the skin of the breast (see the image below).

Inflammatory breast cancer illustrating the classi Inflammatory breast cancer illustrating the classical peau d’orange of involved skin. Courtesy of Dr Giorgio M Baratelli, Radiopaedia.org, rID 43353.

The classic histologic finding in inflammatory breast cancer is dermal lymphatic invasion by tumor cells on skin punch biopsy of the affected breast. These malignant cells form tumor emboli (see the image below), which are responsible for both the local signs and clinically inflammatory symptoms.

Histologic section of an inflammatory breast cance Histologic section of an inflammatory breast cancer specimen. Courtesy of Sofia D Merajver, MD, PhD.

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