Throughout the 1990s, the incidence of inflammatory breast cancer - a relatively rare and aggressive form of the disease - increased and there were only modest improvements in survival, US researchers suggest. They also found significant racial disparities in incidence and survival.
Inflammatory breast cancer is characterized by redness, warmth, and swelling, often without an underlying palpable mass. However, case definitions for the disease vary, so estimates for how often it occurs have ranged widely from less than 1 percent to 10 percent of breast cancer cases. Inflammatory breast cancer has not been well studied.
To identify trends in inflammatory breast cancer incidence and survival and to examine characteristics of women who develop the disease, Dr. Kenneth W. Hance, from the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, and colleagues studied data from the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program on 180,224 breast cancer cases diagnosed between 1988 and 2000.
Inflammatory breast cancer comprised 2 percent of all malignancies of the breast diagnosed in U.S. women during the study period and the incidence of the disease rose by 25 percent during this time, the investigators report in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
The average age at diagnosis of inflammatory breast cancer was 58.8 years - about 3 to 7 years younger than the average age of women diagnosed with other forms of breast cancer.
African-American patients were found to have a higher incidence and shorter survival time than Caucasian patients.
The survival statistics for inflammatory breast cancer “remain poor,” Hance told Reuters Health, with a median survival time of 2.9 years after diagnosis compared with 6.4 to 10 years for other types of breast cancer.
“For inflammatory breast cancer, we observed only modest improvements in survival time throughout the 1990’s, despite improvements in neoadjuvant chemotherapy for breast cancer,” Hance also said.
While these statistics “paint a bleak picture,” Hance noted, he is “encouraged that our work and the work of others in the field is beginning to identify high risk cohorts of inflammatory breast cancer patients that may benefit from more aggressive (treatment).”
Moreover, he added, “Some laboratories are trying to establish a molecular profile for inflammatory breast cancer that could potentially improve diagnosis and aid in the development of selective therapeutic strategies for this disease.”
SOURCE: Journal of the National Cancer Institute, July 6, 2005.
Revision date: June 11, 2011
Last revised: by Janet A. Staessen, MD, PhD