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Almost always, a rash on the breast is due to a minor and treatable condition, such as an infection or allergy. Rarely, though, it can be due to something more severe like inflammatory breast cancer (IBC). This is a type of breast cancer that develops quite differently than most breast cancers. Instead of lumps, inflammatory breast cancer can appear with a rash. Here are several conditions that cause a breast rash, from eczema to infection to IBC.

Table of contents:

  • What causes a breast rash?
  • How often is a rash on the breast a sign of breast cancer?
  • What is inflammatory breast cancer (IBC)?
  • When should you see a doctor for a rash on the breast?
  • How is inflammatory breast cancer diagnosed?
  • How is inflammatory breast cancer treated?
  • How do I get screened or begin treatment for breast cancer at AnMed Health?

What causes a breast rash?

Many conditions can cause a breast rash, from the everyday to the serious. A rash can be due to heat, allergies or an infection. It could also be due to a chronic condition, such as eczema, which can cause patches on the hands, feet, upper body and limbs.

Rashes vary in severity as well. Sometimes, they cause mild irritation, but other times they can create swelling, pain and itching. The treatment to ease these symptoms will vary, depending on the cause of the rash.

How often is a rash on the breast a sign of cancer?

Very rarely will a rash on the breast be a sign of cancer. More commonly, it will be due to a common infection or a skin condition that will be easily treatable. Other reasons for a rash on the breast include:

Mastitis

One common infection is mastitis, the result of milk getting trapped in the breast of a nursing parent. The infection may be painful, and it may also come with swelling and redness. Mastitis is usually treated effectively with an antibiotic and pain reliever.

Mammary duct ectasia

Sometimes, a blocked or clogged milk duct can lead to redness, tenderness, rash or nipple discharge. Risk factors for mammary duct ectasia include older age, a smoking history and nipple inversion. While this condition can subside on its own, see a doctor if it persists or if you notice symptoms and changes that worry you.

Common skin conditions

Several skin conditions can affect the breast, possibly due to allergies, bug bites, yeast or immune system flare-ups. Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, can also lead to a rash on the breast that causes the skin around the nipple to dry up. Nipple eczema is more common in nursing parents.

When should you see a doctor for a rash on the breast?

Typically, you won’t need to see a doctor if you get a rash on your breast. Try to treat the rash at home with a warm washcloth or fragrance-free lotion.

There are some circumstances in which you’ll want to see a doctor about a breast rash. If the rash occurs with any of these symptoms, please contact a doctor:

  • Fever
  • Severe pain
  • Yellow or green liquid coming from the rash
  • Sores or red streaks

Your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic for the rash. If it has not subsided within 10 days, let your doctor know and ask for additional tests. Even though IBC is rare, it can spread quickly, so it is important to rule this out or to get a diagnosis as early as possible.

What is inflammatory breast cancer (IBC)?

Inflammatory breast cancer affects the skin and lymph vessels, and its symptoms vary from most other forms of breast cancer. With IBC, an early symptom is a breast rash. It can affect the skin of the breast in other ways, too, including dimpling. Unlike most other forms of breast cancer, however, IBC doesn’t usually cause lumps in the breast, which means that it may not appear on a mammogram.

IBC is an aggressive form of cancer, but it is rare: IBC accounts for just 1 to 5 percent of all breast cancer diagnoses, according to the American Cancer Society.

Beyond a rash, other symptoms of IBC include:

  • Swelling of the breast’s skin
  • Redness
  • Inverted nipple
  • Uneven breasts, which may make one breast feel warmer, heavier or larger than the other
  • Pain or tenderness of the breast

How is inflammatory breast cancer diagnosed?

Initially, inflammatory breast cancer may be detected through a mammogram, ultrasound or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). From there, a biopsy may be needed to test a small sample of tissue for cancer.

How is inflammatory breast cancer treated?

If the cancer has not spread beyond the breast or nearby lymph nodes, chemotherapy, surgery and radiation therapy may be used, often in that order. For some patients, hormone therapies and targeted therapies may be options as well.

If it has spread, surgery is typically not a good option, but chemotherapy, targeted therapies and hormone therapies may be used. In addition, patients may want to inquire about clinical trials that may connect them to emerging, innovative treatments.

How do I get screened or begin treatment for breast cancer at AnMed Health?

AnMed Health offers state-of-the-art cancer care with treatment plans personalized for each individual. Our system has earned Accreditation with Commendation from the Commission on Cancer of the American College of Surgeons, which is an honor that only one in four cancer hospitals has received.

If you want to be screened for breast cancer at our AnMed Health North Campus, or if you’re facing a diagnosis and are looking for a care team, please contact AnMed Health at 864.512.5400 to learn how we can help you.

Additionally, you can schedule a mammography at various locations throughout the Clemson community with our AnMed Health Mobile Mammography Coach. You can view our upcoming mobile mammography stops on our events calendar. To schedule an appointment, call 864.512.6255.



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