Inflammatory Breast Cancer - KCBD NewsChannel 11 Lubbock

11/2/06

Inflammatory Breast Cancer

A lot of people send me e-mails that are scary, as far as your health is concerned, just to ask, is this true? Since this summer, I have gotten one specific e-mail from dozens of viewers and, no question, this one is true. But they all tell me they have never heard of a kind of cancer, called IBC.

Here at NewsChannel 11, we followed one Lubbock woman for two years as she struggled with IBC. You may not remember the diagnosis, but you might remember her face. Lynnetta Hibdon was just 30 years old when she was diagnosed with Inflammatory Breast Cancer, or IBC.

You may also remember her daughter, Katie, who was six at the time had this idea, "I had the idea to start the Lynnetta support team. It just came to me to fight the battle," said Katie Hibdon.  So, she started selling T-shirts to raise money to buy videos for empty VCRs at Arrington Cancer Center. We followed Lynnetta through radiation and chemo as she tried to educate others about this rare, but real, threat to both men and women. She died two years later. 

"I remember you did a story on her and I remember watching and thinking how awful," said Debbie Clevenger, an IBC patient.  Now, three years later, Debbie was one of the many stirred by an e-mail circulating in cyberspace. Like many others, she asked me to do a story on IBC but unlike all the others she told me she had the disease, too.

"When I was telling my friends I was concerned about having cancer. They said, 'Oh, you don't have IBC because it's too rare,' well, I did," said Clevenger. Debbie was diagnosed with IBC and began radiation and chemotherapy almost immediately.  She is in remission now, but IBC is so aggressive that she needs to be checked every three months to make sure it has not returned.

"When you feel great like I do now. That's scary too, because I wonder how long it's going to last, but I think it's just a matter of learning to enjoy those days," said Clevenger. 

Dr. Everardo Cobos, an oncologist with the Southwest Cancer Center, says less than five percent of breast cancer cases are IBC. But since it is unlike the breast cancer we try to find in mammogram's or try to feel in self exams it is often misdiagnosed.

"It presents with an inflammation of the breast, redness of the breast, itching, pain and it fools the woman and the physician into thinking this is an infection of the breast," said Dr. Cobos.

That's why many women with IBC can waste valuable time treating the problem, long term with antibiotics that don't work.  So, if you go through a round of antibiotics for a breast infection, and it just doesn't get any better, Dr. Cobos says that can be a clue to ask, "is it IBC?"

Even if you are very young, the Inflammatory Breast Cancer Research Foundation says it has documented two cases of this disease in girls as young as 12-years-old. IBC even shows up occasionally in women who are pregnant since there is typically no lump, this is a different kind of breast cancer with a different set of symptoms.

"Think of the typical breast cancer, it starts with a lump like marble. Inflammatory breast cancer would present something like melting chocolate. It's kind of spreading. It's liquidly. It defuses itself throughout the breast," said Dr. Cobos.

So now, this warning, we are going to show you some pictures that may be inappropriate or offensive to some viewers but they could be life-saving to others.

  • IBC may appear with swelling, usually sudden, sometimes a cup size in a few days the skin texture changes more like the skin of an orange.
  • There may be ridges and thickened areas of the skin or even a small bruise that doesn't go away.
  • A pink, red, or dark colored area on the breast or circling the nipple.
  • The nipple may retract or leave some discharge which may or may not be bloody.
  • Other symptoms include: persistent itching the breast may feel warm to the touch or breast pain, and not soreness, but a constant ache or stabbing pains.

Any one of these symptoms is concern enough to see a doctor. The key is to find it early, especially in IBC where it can progress much more rapidly.

"I just noticed a change in my left breast. A heaviness and a little thickening of the skin and I thought it was hormonal," said Clevenger.

Now, while Debbie is learning to cope with the cancer she thought she would never get, Lynnetta's wish to educate others about IBC continues through the annual Lynnetta Hibdon Breast Cancer Symposium, in which a panel of doctors make themselves available to answer questions and Katie, who is 11 now speaks on behalf of her mother.

"It's a wonderful feeling to see all these cancer survivors because my mom always wanted there to be the awareness they do now," said Katie Hibdon.  

Remember, this awareness campaign began years ago for the Hibdon family, and now, with each standing ovation, Katie's mother would be so proud.

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