Background: Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) is a rare form of rapidly progressive breast cancer. We reviewed the diagnosis, treatment, and outcome of IBC in our inner city community-based hospital and compared results with previous published reports.
Study design: Twenty-five patients were diagnosed and treated for IBC at the Catholic Medical Center of Brooklyn and Queens during the 6-year period of January 1989 through December 1995. Criteria for inclusion in this study were clinical or histopathologic evidence, or both, of inflammatory carcinoma.
Results: IBC comprised 2.0% (25 of 1,257) of all breast cancer patients initially diagnosed during this study. All presented with clinical signs of IBC. Invasion of dermal lymphatics by neoplastic cells was demonstrated in 68% (17 of 25) of biopsy specimens. Sixty-eight percent (17 of 25) of patients presented with metastatic (ie, stage IV) disease and 28% (7 of 25) with stage IIIb; one patient (4%) died before staging. Estrogen and progesterone receptor studies were done on 72% (18 of 25) of all specimens. Of those patients who died, 85% were estrogen and progesterone receptor negative; of those surviving, 60% were estrogen receptor positive. Twenty (80%) of the 25 patients died, after a mean survival of 11.8 months and 5 (20%) remain alive, with a mean survival of 44.8 months. Of those who died, 85% were stage IV at presentation. All five survivors were stage IIIb at presentation. Patients underwent a variety of multimodal therapies. Survival was significantly associated with earlier stage at diagnosis and estrogen receptor positivity.
Conclusions: IBC is characterized by rapid progression and dismal outcome. Earlier stage at diagnosis and positive estrogen receptor status suggest a more favorable prognosis. Neoadjuvant chemotherapy, as part of a multimodal approach, has significantly improved the outcome for IBC, but this is limited to patients with stage IIIb disease. Most of our patients presented with stage IV disease. If improvement is to be realized at the community level, limited health care resources must be directed toward aggressive physician and public education.