If you think you know what to look for when it comes to breast cancer, Andrea Antico is going to make you think again.
Inflammatory breast cancer affects between one and three per cent of Australian women, and Ms Antico, just 53, is one of them.
Ms Antico has recently completed about a year of treatment for inflammatory breast cancer, which is rare and aggressive, with symptoms which mimic other conditions.
“Most of us think we know a lot about breast cancer, well think again,” she said.
“The most aggressive and deadly form of breast cancer can come without a lump, is not detected on mammograms or ultrasounds, most doctors will misdiagnose it as just mastitis and it could kill you within a few months.”
Ms Antico was getting dressed one morning in November 2016 when she noticed some dimpling in the skin on her breast.
Referred to as peau d'orange because it makes the skin look a bit like orange peel, this is one of the symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer.
Ms Antico did not develop what is considered to be the most common symptom: an inflamed or swollen breast. Other signs include itching or shooting pain, thickening of the skin, a flattened or discoloured nipple and discharge from the nipple.
“Symptoms develop suddenly, sometimes overnight. Many women report waking up in the morning with one swollen breast and no memory or injury or stress which could have caused the swelling,” she said.
“Inflammatory breast cancer usually grows in a nest or sheets and can spread quickly throughout the breast and body within weeks.
“It does not form a solid lump that can be detected on mammograms or ultrasounds.”
Ms Antico said there is no early detection for inflammatory breast cancer and because symptoms closely mimic mastitis, women can be misdiagnosed.
“By the time a woman takes the antibiotics, realises they haven’t made any difference and gone back to the doctor, it can have spread,” she said.
Ms Antico underwent treatments including chemotherapy, radiation treatment and surgery.
“Because inflammatory breast cancer behaves so differently from other breast cancers, it requires specialised treatment,” Ms Antico said.
She completed this treatment in January 2018.
“I won’t know for a while how I'm going. I’ll be on medication for years to come,” Ms Antico said.
“But I want to raise awareness of inflammatory breast cancer, and to say to women if they have any concerns to see their doctor. Don’t ignore symptoms.”