Inflammatory Breast Cancer

By: Emilie Voss
By: Emilie Voss

Forty-eight-year-old Marilyn Hermenitt was diagnosed with a breast infection, something antibiotics would cure. But it wasn’t an infection. It was cancer. And it was killing her.

Melissa Cupp, Marilyn’s Daughter spoke to News 10, “When I lost her it was just a huge hole that was left when she died. She fought and fought and fought like crazy to beat the breast cancer but it spread to her brain and many other organs and there just wasn’t anything she could do.”

Marilyn died of complications from inflammatory breast cancer. “Every woman should at least have the basic idea that there’s something out there called inflammatory breast cancer,” Melissa says.

But not every woman does. Inflammatory breast cancer is different from other common kinds of breast cancer and by the time symptoms show up it’s already progressed to a dangerous stage.

According to Dr. John Axelson of Foote Hospital, “It’s unfortunate IBC is as advanced as it is at the time of presentation. A woman has no symptoms and then she has a red hot painful breast, stage 3, and its only been two weeks; it’s frustrating.”

Inflammatory breast cancer often presents itself as a red, hot, swollen, and tender breast that can easily be misdiagnosed.

“It’s often assumed that this is some kind of bacterial infection and treated with antibiotics,” says Dr. Axelson, “and it’s not until the antibiotics don’t work that she usually comes to clinical attention.”

Mammograms, regular doctor visits, and self breast checks are still the best tools of detection for most forms of breast cancer but with IBC there is not always a lump.

“Women are aware of breast lumps, but I don’t think this inflammatory breast cancer; they're probably thinking infection just like most primary care doctors are at the time it appears,” Dr. Axelson told us.

“My mom had been having mammograms.” Melissa Cupp said of her mother. “She had one the year she was diagnosed and it wasn’t there. A few months later it was spreading like crazy.”

After diagnosis the treatment process for IBC can be a rough road.

“Treatment for IBC really encompasses everything we have,” says Dr. Axelson, from chemo to a mastectomy to radiation and hormone therapy.

Dr. Axelson explained, “The inflammatory breast cancer patients do a lot worse.”

That is compared to the average woman with common kinds of breast cancer who often present in stage one or two.

Melissa Cupp added, “She was detected very early; inflammatory breast cancer is just really aggressive and although I’m sure there are cases of people beating it, its a really difficult type of breast cancer to beat.”

So in honor of her mother Melissa Cupp says she works as hard as she can to spread the word about IBC.

“I think the general public needs to know about it because I think if they don’t know their chances of getting diagnosed I think go down.” She warned, “If I go into the doctor and I get diagnosed with an infection of the breast, I’m going to say whoa hold on; are we sure that’s what it is?”

Dr. Axelson added, “I think people can always be better educated and better informed.”



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