A rash on the breast does not necessarily signal breast cancer. Many breast rashes are related to skin disorders that cause irritation all over the body, and others result from a condition that affects only the breast. However, a breast rash can also be a symptom of breast cancer or develop as a result of treatment.
A breast rash is an itchy or irritated area on the breast, often with changes in the skin’s appearance, texture, or color (pink or red in lighter skin and white, gray, or purple in darker skin). The skin may become inflamed or scaly, painful, or blistered. If a rash is caused by a minor skin condition, it usually can be easily managed at home. In other cases, a breast rash may be serious, and you should see your doctor for prompt diagnosis and treatment.
Breast disease, infection, injury, or irritation can cause a breast rash. The rash could be related to allergies (hives), a virus (shingles), or another skin condition (eczema or psoriasis) that can affect other parts of the body.
Certain forms of breast cancer include breast rash among their symptoms. These rashes tend to occur with less common or more aggressive types of breast cancer.
Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) is an aggressive, fast-growing type of breast cancer. IBC is rare, accounting for 1 percent to 5 percent of all breast cancers. With this disease, breast cancer cells enter and block lymph vessels, which causes symptoms including:
The symptoms of IBC are easily mistaken for those of other breast conditions, which contributes to delayed diagnosis and even later treatment. When diagnosed, around one-third of women with IBC have metastatic breast cancer.
A rare form of breast cancer, Paget’s disease makes up between 1 percent and 4 percent of all breast cancer diagnoses. Paget’s disease affects the skin of the nipple and sometimes the areola. Usually, this type of breast cancer also involves at least one tumor, most often ductal carcinoma in situ or invasive breast cancer.
Symptoms of Paget’s disease include:
Sometimes a treatment, not the cancer itself, leads to a rash. Many medications have the potential to cause a rash as a side effect, including breast cancer treatments such as:
Some pain medications also can cause a rash.
Sometimes a breast infection or other noncancerous condition can produce a rash. A breast rash could result from:
Once a doctor determines the cause of your breast rash, it can be treated. This could involve both medical approaches to address cancer and at-home measures to relieve discomfort.
A rash that is due to a type of breast cancer or side effects of treatment may call for medicated creams or ointments, such as topical corticosteroids. If your breast rash is a symptom of the cancer itself, treating the cancer may help alleviate your rash.
Treatment for inflammatory breast cancer may include some combination of the following:
Many methods to help relieve the discomfort of breast cancer rashes don’t require a prescription or medical intervention. Some at-home strategies include:
Note: Don’t use heating pads, ice packs, or bandages on a rash that is the result of radiotherapy. Also, if you are undergoing radiation therapy, ask your health care provider which skin products, such as talcum powder or antiperspirant, you should avoid.
Self-diagnosing your breast rash can be difficult and even dangerous. Treating a serious condition such as breast cancer as soon as possible is key to ensuring the most treatment options, experiencing good treatment outcomes, and achieving remission.
Contact your health care provider if you experience a breast rash that:
In addition, see your health care provider for any rash that comes on suddenly and spreads quickly or covers much of your body.
Above all, trust your gut. If you have any concerns or lingering doubts, schedule an appointment with your doctor to determine the cause of your breast rash. It’s always better to be safer than sorry.
Was your breast cancer diagnosed because you sought medical attention for a rash? Do you have any advice for managing breast cancer rash? Comment below or join MyBCTeam to add to or start a conversation. MyBCTeam is the social network for people living with or caring for those with breast cancer.