Rare but aggressive form of breast cancer can strike without warning

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Inflammatory breast cancer is a very aggressive form of the disease that can develop suddenly which makes it important to know the symptoms of this rare type of breast cancer which can strike anyone at any age.

Sonja Sax was just 50 when she was diagnosed.

The Fort Lauderdale bartender enjoys engaging with her customers and hearing their stories but never thought she’d be sharing a very personal one of her own.

“I still to this day go, ‘I can’t believe I have breast cancer,’” she said.

The diagnosis came in January 2020.

“I had a mammogram in September and by December the physical appearance of my breast was completely different. It was completely swollen, inflamed and painful,” Sax said.

Although her mammogram showed no evidence of disease, experts said that’s not unusual with inflammatory breast cancer, which can appear suddenly.

“Inflammatory breast cancer is different because it’s not the traditional presentation where you have a mass, you feel a lump in your breast, you don’t have that, you have a breast that looks inflamed, is red and angry,” said Dr. Alejandra Perez with Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Perez said many patients with inflammatory breast cancer may lose precious time for treatment because their cases are misdiagnosed as infections and as a result, are diagnosed in late stage.

“Patients can be cured of inflammatory breast cancer but it’s very important that they come to us right away,” she said.

After chemotherapy and surgery, Sax is now undergoing radiation treatment, all with a positive outlook.

“I’m on my healing journey and now there’s so many things I want to do for cancer people and patients,” she said.

Sax credits her customers and coworkers at Zuckerello’s in Fort Lauderdale with helping her through the healing process.

“Everyone’s given me the time off and the time that I need to take care of myself and I’m very fortunate for that,” she said.

While inflammatory breast cancer isn’t always detected on mammography, Perez said women still need to get annual screenings beginning at age 40 for women of average risk, earlier for women with a high risk of the disease.

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