A breast cancer that defies early detection

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - After a week of experiencing what she called an uncomfortable feeling in her breast, Linda Lee made an appointment to see her doctor.

"He did a self exam on me, " Linda says, " and he said we're not sure what it is..."

Doctors performed tests which later revealed that she had breast cancer, and it was the rarest and most aggressive for of the disease.

"I couldn't believe was I was hearing," Linda remembers.

The type of breast cancer she was suffering from was called Inflammatory Breast Cancer, or IBC. With IBC breast cancer cells infiltrate out into the skin causing what may appear to be a simple rash or infection.

The thing is, IBC is often missed during a self breast exam because you WILL NOT feel a lump, which is the most associated symptom of breast cancer.

IBC is A-typical in many ways, but the main way is that instead of presenting a discrete mass within the breast like most breast cancers, there may or may not be a mass at all.

Dr. Steve Davidson works for the Montgomery Cancer Center where they see at least 400 new breast cancer patients every year. He says about 20 or 30 of those women will have IBC.

"It's early to metastasis [spread] to other parts of the body...so it's kinda a dual edge sword," Dr. Davidson says. "It can be mistaken for something else, delaying the diagnosis. And while that is going on, it's getting out of the bag."

Despite a survival rate of less that 10% if it goes untreated, Dr. Davidson says the treatment and diagnosis are changing. A patient may now undergo chemotherapy first to decrease the size of the tumor.

"Studies have proven that patients with IBC should be treated up front with chemotherapy," Dr. Davidson advises, " to try to belittle the disease as much as possible before a patient goes to surgery."

Linda Lee knew the odds and was prepared for the worst, but every time she looked into her family's eyes she realized facing the worst wasn't going to be bad at all. "I guess it's the part where you think you may not live, and you do," she says.

NOTE: WSFA 12 News has added links to reputable websites to this story in an effort to help you learn more about Inflammatory Breast Cancer. However, WSFA-TV and it's parent company, Raycom Media, and its affiliates give no warranty as to the accuracy to these sites, which are third-party and not controlled by us. Talk to your doctor if you believe you might have IBC.