Inflammatory breast cancer: no longer an absolute contraindication for breast conservation surgery following good response to neoadjuvant therapy

Monika Brzezinska, J. Michael Dixon


Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) is a rare form of breast cancer characterised by an erythematous swollen breast with extensive oedema and has in the past been associated with a very poor prognosis. After diagnosis by core biopsy of the cancer and any involved nodes patients in the Edinburgh Breast Unit (EBU) are primarily managed with neoadjuvant systemic therapy—chemotherapy or endocrine therapy. If the cancer is localised to one or a few well defined lesions then each of these lesions together with the lowest involved node are clipped. Response during neoadjuvant treatment is monitored clinically and by ultrasound plus mammography +/− magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Following completion of neoadjuvant therapy, imaging is reviewed at a multidisciplinary meeting and patients with a localised single or multiple areas of cancer where all signs of erythema and oedema have settled are considered as to their suitability for breast conserving surgery and whole breast radiotherapy [breast conserving treatment (BCT)]. Here we discuss the results and outcomes of a selected group of patients with IBC who after obtaining a very good response to neoadjuvant chemotherapy or endocrine therapy were treated by BCT and we compare these with other recent publications on this topic. Our data show that patients treated by BCT did not have worse outcomes than patients treated with mastectomy. Importantly other series published recently support our conclusions. Another important observation is that response in estrogen receptor (ER) rich IBC is seen with neoadjuvant endocrine treatment and so not everyone with IBC needs to have neoadjuvant chemotherapy. In conclusion, patients with one or more well defined and localised breast masses and IBC may be suitable for BCT after a major response to neoadjuvant therapy and for these patients BCT should now be considered a viable option.