What is the prognosis of patients with inflammatory breast cancer?

The prognosis, or likely outcome, for a patient diagnosed with cancer is often viewed as the chance that the cancer will be treated successfully and that the patient will recover completely. Many factors can influence a cancer patient’s prognosis, including the type and location of the cancer, the stage of the disease, the patient’s age and overall general health, and the extent to which the patient’s disease responds to treatment.

Because inflammatory breast cancer usually develops quickly and spreads aggressively to other parts of the body, women diagnosed with this disease, in general, do not survive as long as women diagnosed with other types of breast cancer.

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According to statistics from NCI’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) program, the 5-year relative survival for women diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer during the period from 1988 through 2001 was 34 percent, compared with a 5-year relative survival of up to 87 percent among women diagnosed with other stages of invasive breast cancers.

It is important to keep in mind, however, that these survival statistics are based on large numbers of patients and that an individual woman’s prognosis could be better or worse, depending on her tumor characteristics and medical history. Women who have inflammatory breast cancer are encouraged to talk with their doctor about their prognosis, given their particular situation.

Research has shown that the following factors are associated with a better prognosis for women with inflammatory breast cancer:

  • Stage of disease: Women with stage III disease have a better prognosis than women with stage IV disease. Among women who have stage III inflammatory breast cancer, about 40 percent survive at least 5 years after their diagnosis, whereas among women with stage IV inflammatory breast cancer, only about 11 percent survive for at least 5 years after their diagnosis.
  • Tumor grade: Women with grade I or grade II tumors have a better prognosis than those with grade III tumors. Tumor grade is a term that describes what cancer cells look like under a microscope, with a higher grade indicating a more abnormal appearance and a more aggressive cancer that is likely to grow and spread. Among women who are diagnosed with grade I or grade II inflammatory breast cancer, 77 percent survived at least 2 years after their diagnosis, whereas among women who were diagnosed with grade III inflammatory breast cancer, 65 percent survived at least 2 years after their diagnosis.
  • Ethnicity: African American women who have inflammatory breast cancer generally have a worse prognosis than women of other racial and ethnic groups. Studies have found that around 53 percent of African American women who are diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer survive at least 2 years after diagnosis, whereas 69 percent of women from other racial and ethnic groups survive at least 2 years after diagnosis.
  • Estrogen receptor status: Women with inflammatory breast whose cancer cells have estrogen receptors have a better prognosis than those whose cancer cells are estrogen receptor negative. The median survival for women with estrogen-receptor negative inflammatory breast cancer is 2 years, whereas the median survival for those with estrogen receptor-positive inflammatory breast cancer is 4 years.
  • Type of treatment: Multimodal treatment of inflammatory breast cancer improves a woman’s prognosis. Historically, among women who had only surgery, radiation therapy, or surgery and radiation therapy, fewer than 5 percent survived longer than 5 years. However, when women are treated with neoadjuvant chemotherapy, mastectomy, adjuvant chemotherapy, and radiation therapy, their 5-year disease-free survival ranges from 24 to 49 percent. One long-term study found that 28 percent of women with inflammatory breast cancer survived 15 years or longer after they were treated with multimodal therapy.

Ongoing research, especially at the molecular level, will increase our understanding of how inflammatory breast cancer begins and progresses. This knowledge should enable the development of new treatments and more accurate prognoses for women diagnosed with this disease. It is important, therefore, that women who are diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer talk with their doctor about the option of participating in a clinical trial.

What clinical trials are available for women with inflammatory breast cancer?

NCI sponsors clinical trials of new treatments for all types of cancer, as well as trials that test better ways to use existing treatments. Participation in clinical trials is a treatment option for many patients with inflammatory breast cancer, and all patients with this disease are encouraged to consider treatment in a clinical trial.

Below are links to clinical trials for inflammatory breast cancer patients. These clinical trials can be found in NCI’s list of clinical trials. For information about how to search the list, see “Help Using the NCI Clinical Trials Search Form.”

People interested in taking part in a clinical trial should talk with their doctor. Information about clinical trials is available from NCI’s Cancer Information Service at 1–800–4–CANCER and in the NCI booklet Taking Part in Cancer Treatment Research Studies. Additional information about clinical trials is available at http://www.cancer.gov/clinicaltrials.

Source: National Cancer Institute

Selected References

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