Diagnosing inflammatory breast cancer

Tests and procedures used to diagnose inflammatory breast cancer include:

  • A physical exam. Your doctor examines your breast to look for redness and other signs of inflammatory breast cancer.
  • Imaging tests. Your doctor may recommend a breast X-ray (mammogram) or a breast ultrasound to look for signs of cancer in your breast, such as thickened skin. Additional imaging tests, such as MRI, may be recommended in certain situations.
  • Removing a sample of tissue for testing. A biopsy is a procedure to remove a small sample of suspicious breast tissue for testing. The tissue is analyzed in a laboratory to look for signs of cancer. A skin biopsy may also be helpful, and this can be done at the same time as a breast biopsy.

Staging inflammatory breast cancer

If you have inflammatory breast cancer, your doctor will work to determine the extent (stage) of your cancer. This process is called staging.

Additional tests that may be used to stage your cancer include a CT scan, positron emission tomography (PET) scan and bone scan. Not everyone needs every test, so your doctor will select the most appropriate tests based on your particular situation.

The stages of inflammatory breast cancer are:

  • Stage III. At this stage, cancer is considered to be locally advanced cancer — meaning it has spread to nearby lymph nodes and to the fibrous connective tissue inside the breast.
  • Stage IV. At this stage, cancer has spread to other parts of your body.