Treatment for inflammatory breast cancer often begins with chemotherapy, followed by surgery and radiation therapy. Other treatments may be used if tests of your cancer cells reveal that you may benefit from additional treatments.
Chemotherapy uses chemicals to kill cancer cells. You receive chemotherapy drugs through a vein (intravenously), in pill form or both.
Chemotherapy is usually used prior to surgery for inflammatory breast cancer. This pre-surgical treatment, referred to as neoadjuvant therapy, aims to shrink the cancer before the operation and increase the chance that surgery will be successful. Chemotherapy can also be used after surgery.
After chemotherapy, you may have an operation to remove the affected breast (mastectomy). The procedure used most often in cases of inflammatory breast cancer is a modified radical mastectomy, which involves removing the entire breast and several nearby lymph nodes. The lymph nodes are tested for signs of cancer.
Radiation therapy uses high-powered energy beams, such as X-rays and protons, to kill cancer cells. During radiation therapy, you lie on a table while a large machine moves around you, directing the energy beams to your cancer.
Radiation therapy can be used after chemotherapy and surgery to kill any cancer cells that might remain around your breast and under your arm.
Targeted therapies kill cancer by focusing on the cancer cells' particular vulnerabilities.
For inflammatory breast cancer cells with a certain genetic mutation, the medications trastuzumab (Herceptin) and pertuzumab (Perjeta) may be treatment options. These medications target a protein called HER2 that helps some inflammatory breast cancer cells grow and survive. If your inflammatory breast cancer cells make too much HER2, trastuzumab and pertuzumab may help block that protein and cause the cancer cells to die.
Trastuzumab and pertuzumab can be combined with chemotherapy.
If your inflammatory breast cancer is sensitive to hormones, your doctor may recommend hormone therapy.
Hormone therapy treatments can include:
- A medication that blocks hormones from attaching to cancer cells. Tamoxifen is a type of drug called a selective estrogen receptor modulator (SERM). SERMs act by blocking any estrogen present in the body from attaching to the estrogen receptor on the cancer cells, slowing the growth of tumors and killing tumor cells. Tamoxifen can be used in both premenopausal and postmenopausal women.
- Medications that stop the body from making estrogen after menopause. Called aromatase inhibitors, these drugs block the action of an enzyme that converts androgens in the body into estrogen. These drugs are effective only in postmenopausal women. Aromatase inhibitors include anastrozole (Arimidex), letrozole (Femara) and exemestane (Aromasin).
Supportive (palliative) care
Palliative care is specialized medical care that focuses on providing relief from pain and other symptoms of a serious illness. Palliative care specialists work with you, your family and your other doctors to provide an extra layer of support that complements your ongoing care. Palliative care can be used while undergoing other aggressive treatments, such as surgery, chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
When palliative care is used along with all of the other appropriate treatments, people with cancer may feel better and live longer.
Palliative care is provided by a team of doctors, nurses and other specially trained professionals. Palliative care teams aim to improve the quality of life for people with cancer and their families. This form of care is offered alongside curative or other treatments you may be receiving.