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Doctors Hope To Educate About Inflammatory Breast Cancer

  • September 5, 2006
  • Number of views: 2800
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By Kay Quinn, KSDK-TV, September 5, 2006

A television news story and the internet recently combined to create what some doctors are calling a hysteria among women in this country. The story aired in Seattle, Wash. and warned of a new and silent type of breast cancer.

But doctors in St. Louis say inflammatory breast cancer is not new and is anything but silent.

The original story on Inflammatory Breast Cancer aired on Seattle station KOMO-TV in May and was downloaded by more than 10 million people.

As a result, dozens of viewers forwarded the story to NewsChannel 5. That''s when we began to investigate the topic here at home.

While we don''t usually report on what other television stations do, this time we felt we needed to. What we found should hopefully put what some call the hysteria to rest.

One of our first calls was to the Siteman Cancer Center. We asked to be put in touch with an inflammatory breast cancer patient. They didn''t have one. We called two other hospitals who told me they didn''t have any patients. That''s when we learned just how rare inflammatory breast cancer is.

"At the Siteman Cancer Center in 2004, we saw almost 600 new cases of breast cancer. Only 14 of those were inflammatory," said Dr. Catherine Appleton, a radiologist who works in the Breast Health Center at the Siteman Cancer Center.

St. John''s Mercy Medical Center was able to put us in touch with a patient. Diane Knight lives 100 miles outside St. Louis in Rolla.

"I''d never heard of it, never read of it," said Knight.

Knight recalled how the changes on the skin of her breast were recognized by her doctor immediately as inflammatory breast cancer. That was in the fall of 2000.

"I sort of thought my doctor was being a little blunt. Why would she say that just right off the bat and scare me to death?" recalled Knight. "But I know why she did it and I''m really, really glad she was on top of it and recognized it."

Appleton said the Seattle story caused unnecessary apprehension about a disease so many already fear.

"I actually received the e-mail link from my mom whose a nurse (asking if I had) heard about this new type of breast cancer?" recalled Appleton. She says inflammatory breast cancer is not new.

Those words were echoed by another local doctor annoyed by the Seattle story, St. John''s Mercy Medical Center breast surgeon Dr. Susan Westfall.

"All doctors know," said Dr. Westfall. "This is something, as I mentioned, that was described in 1924 so certainly when I took my boards and my medical school tests inflammatory breast carcinoma was tested."

These doctors also urge women to call the disease by its full name, inflammatory breast cancer, and not by its initials IBC.

"When I saw the video which was forwarded to me by a girlfriend, I didn''t even know what they were talking about," said Westfall. "I call it inflammatory breast carcinoma. I''ve never heard it as IBC."

Here''s what else you need to know:

While this cancer is typically not seen in a mammogram, it is easily seen on the surface of the skin. Symptoms include redness, swelling and an orange-peel appearance to the skin.

The changes come on very quickly, in a matter of days or weeks. It can look like a rash, bug bite or an infection. The youngest patient was just 12.

"It''s a very aggressive cancer," said Westfall.

But remember, it''s rare. Doctors said many of the same symptoms could be something else. Still, the Seattle story filled some local waiting rooms with worried patients.

"We noticed a tremendous increase in our phone calls of patients who were terrified they had inflammatory breast cancer," said Appleton. "And of course they didn''t have inflammatory breast cancer. But we didn''t want to be dismissive, we didn''t want to miss anything and we brought in all the patients who were concerned."

While the doctors we spoke with appreciate the Seattle story raised awareness, they now hope their opinions can provide a little more perspective.

"It was a little bit sensationalized for the lay person out there and may have started a panic unnecessarily," said Appleton.

If you notice any changes in your breasts, either a lump or changes on the surface of the skin, don''t delay in seeing your doctor.

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