Itchy breasts can be a common problem for some women. Often, it is a manifestation of an innocuous skin condition like contact dermatitis or eczema and rarely, may point to a more serious condition like inflammatory breast cancer or Paget’s disease of the breast.
While itching is not always associated with breast cancer, it may point two different types of breast cancer- one a serious form of cancer called Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) and the other an early form of breast cancer called Paget’s disease involving the nipple and areola complex alone, if caught in time. Let’s look at the symptoms and what one needs to watch out for!
What to Watch Out For?
Inflammatory Breast Cancer
Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) is a rare and aggressive type of breast cancer, which is known to involve the lymphatic channels of the skin of the breast. As the name suggests, inflammatory breast cancer makes the breasts look red (erythema), enlarged and swollen (oedema). Moreover, thickening of the skin makes it resemble an orange peel. This orange peel-like appearance is termed as Peau d’orange.
Itching on the breast and the nipple areola complex with some reddening of the skin may be the first sign of IBC. Persistent itching in the breasts not relieved by dermatological intervention needs to be seen by a breast surgeon. If any of the following symptoms accompany itching in the breasts, getting an appointment at one of the breast cancer hospitals becomes mandatory:
- Reddening of the breast(s)
- Dimpling of the breast(s)
- Breast swelling
- Thickening of the breast(s) which is unrelated to weight gain
- Swelling in the armpit due to lymph node metastases
Inflammatory breast cancer is an aggressive form of breast cancer and early diagnosis can make a crucial difference in breast cancer treatment.
Also known as Paget’s disease of the breast, it is a rare type of cancer that involves the nipple and areola. The initial signs of this cancer include a red, scaly rash on the skin that may look like a form of eczema. It has a waxing and waning pattern wherein the scaliness of skin may subside completely. A crust may form on the nipple repeatedly which when removed can cause bleeding from the surface of the nipple.
Paget’s Disease may present with-
- Itching on the nipple and areola
- Yellow discharge from the nipple(s)
- Bleeding from the nipple
- Inverted, retracted or deformed nipple(s)
- A thick, red and crusted lesion that looks like eczema
- Tingling sensation around the nipple or areola
It is important to catch Paget’s disease, when itching and crust formation are the earliest symptoms. This may be a Stage 0 cancer. If ignored, what was confined to just the nipple-areola complex may go on to involve the breast tissue and a lump may form. This would upstage the disease and the treatment would be more elaborate in this case than for disease confined only to the nipple and areola complex.
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A Word from Max Healthcare
Even though most cases of itchy breasts are benign and linked to skin conditions; one should look for other tell tale signs of breast cancer if this symptom is persistent. It is important to see a breast surgeon and go through investigations to rule out cancer. Being breast aware and regularly examining oneself is the only key to early detection and good outcomes.