Survival rates for women diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer are grim. Only 25 to 50 percent of women will survive five years. Believe it or not, this is a HUGE improvement over the survival statistics of just a few years ago — when only 1-2% could expect to be alive five years after diagnosis. Even with chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation, 90% of women will suffer a recurrence. This is a lifelong battle for those that are diagnosed, and it is a very difficult disease to battle, as it’s one of the few cancers that are obvious on the surface of the body; as it marches across a woman’s breast, it is very hard to watch.
The standard surgery for inflammatory breast cancer is a modified radical mastectomy. This surgery involves removal of the entire affected breast and most or all of the lymph nodes under the adjacent arm. Often, the lining over the underlying chest muscles is also removed, but the chest muscles are preserved. Sometimes, however, the smaller chest muscle (pectoralis minor) may be removed, too.
Post-mastectomy radiation therapy to the chest wall under the breast that was removed is a standard part of multimodal therapy for inflammatory breast cancer. If a woman received trastuzumab before surgery, she may continue to receive it during postoperative radiation therapy. Breast reconstruction can be performed in women with inflammatory breast cancer, but, due to the importance of radiation therapy in treating this disease, experts generally recommend delayed reconstruction.