Inflammatory HER2-Positive Breast Cancer Responds to Herceptin

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If you have been diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer that is HER2-positive, you might want to discuss a new study with your doctor.

Inflammatory breast cancer is a relatively rare but very serious, aggressive type of breast cancer. Symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer can include:

  • Redness of all or part of the breast. Sometimes the redness comes and goes.
  • Swelling of the breast.
  • Warmth. The breast may feel warm.
  • Orange-peel appearance. The breast can swell and start to look like an orange peel (called "peau d'orange").
  • Ridges, welts, or hives on the breast.

About 50% of women have a lump or a mass in the breast, but it may be difficult to feel since the breast is often bigger and harder than normal.

Inflammatory breast cancer is hard to diagnose and sometimes is misdiagnosed as an infection. Because the disease is rare, many doctors have never seen it. And it hasn't been studied as much as other types of breast cancer. Swelling and redness of the breast are more commonly caused by an infection. That's why doctors think of that diagnosis first. Estimates of how often inflammatory breast cancer occurs have ranged from 1% to 10% of all breast cancer cases.

Inflammatory breast cancer can be difficult to treat. Chemotherapy often is given at the time of diagnosis, followed by surgery and radiation. Additional chemotherapy and other treatments may follow.

In a study HER2-positive inflammatory breast cancer treated with Herceptin (chemical name: trastuzumab) and chemotherapy before surgery was 3 times more likely to fully respond than when the cancer was treated with chemotherapy alone.

Herceptin is a targeted therapy that attacks breast cancers that make too much of the HER2/neu gene or HER2 protein. These cancers are called HER2-positive. Herceptin also is called an immune treatment because it is an antibody that blocks the HER2 protein in cancer cells. Blocking the protein helps stop the growth of HER2-positive cancer cells. About 1 out of every 4 breast cancers is HER2-positive. HER2-positive breast cancers tend to be more aggressive than HER2-negative breast cancers.

If you've been diagnosed with HER2-positive inflammatory breast cancer, talk to your doctor about whether Herceptin is a good treatment option for you. To learn more, visit the breastcancer.org Inflammatory Breast Cancer page.

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