Inflammatory breast cancer is a distinct clinicopathologic entity that accounts for 1 percent of all cases of breast cancer. The diagnosis should be strongly suspected on the basis of the distinctive clinical findings, which include edema of the breast, inflammation, wheals, and a typical reddish-purple color of the overlying skin. Pathologic examination usually shows infiltration of the dermal lymphatics with carcinoma. Evidence of distant metastatic spread is more frequent than with other types of breast cancer and is seen in approximately 30 percent of patients. The five-year disease-free survival rate is less than 5 percent when local therapy alone (mastectomy and/or local radiotherapy) is used. The addition of combination chemotherapy to high-dose local radiotherapy has improved the five-year survival rate to approximately 30 percent. The potential for long-term survival is limited to the subgroup of patients with only local-regional disease at the time of diagnosis. Patients with inflammatory breast cancer should be treated with combined-modality therapy using combination chemotherapy and high-dose radiotherapy to the breast, since this approach is potentially curative. The fatalism formerly associated with this diagnosis is no longer warranted, particularly in patients with local-regional disease. Failure to employ Intensive combined-modality treatment will deny some patients a chance for long-term survival.
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