Dimpling of breast tissue may indicate inflammatory breast cancer, an invasive type of breast cancer. Breast cancer dimpling is also called peau d’orange.

Cancer is not the only reason why dimpling occurs in the breast tissue. If the breast also appears red and feels warm, it may indicate cancer that needs urgent treatment. This redness may be harder to see in darker skin tones.

Regularly examining the breasts can help an individual notice any symptoms if they occur. These can include changes in texture and color.

Read on to learn more about breast cancer dimpling. This article examines what causes dimpling, how to find it, diagnosis, treatments, and more.

Also known as peau d’orange, dimpling of the breast causes the skin to look like the pitting and uneven skin of an orange. Sometimes, the skin can also be red and inflamed, though the redness may be difficult to see on darker skin.

The area around the breast, nipple, or areola may appear red, scaly, or swollen. Thickening of tissue can affect breast tissue or the area near the underarm.

Dimpling of the breast tissue can be a sign of a serious form of cancer known as inflammatory breast cancer. With inflammatory breast cancer, there may not be a lump.

If dimpling is a sign of breast cancer, it tends to occur in only one breast. If dimpling affects both breasts, the person probably does not have breast cancer.

View the slideshow below for photos of breast dimpling.

Dimpling can occur with inflammatory breast cancer due to the buildup of fluid in the tissues of the breast. It can cause the skin to thicken, which can result in pitting or an “orange peel” appearance.

Symptoms occur when cancer cells block the lymph vessels in the skin. This can cause the breasts to look inflamed.

Inflammatory breast cancer is a rare but aggressive type of breast cancer. It accounts for around 1% to 5% of all breast cancer cases.

Other causes of dimpling

Breast dimpling is not always a sign of breast cancer. Dimpling may also be a symptom of fat necrosis, a condition where the fatty tissue in the breast dies.

Dimpling can occur for various reasons, including breast surgery, a bruise or injury, or as a side effect of a biopsy.

There is no link between fat necrosis and breast cancer.

The only way to find out if dimpling is due to breast cancer or fat necrosis is by having an examination and a breast biopsy with a medical professional.

The easiest way to find dimpling is to look at the breasts. Regularly checking the breasts can help a person know how the breasts usually look and feel. This may make it easier to recognize dimpling and any other changes.

The best time to do it is to take a few minutes when a person is getting dressed or changing clothes.

To check for dimpling, a person can:

  • examine the tissue covering the breasts and underarm areas
  • note any changes in the skin, including lumps or changes in texture
  • feel the breasts to check for lumps, areas of tenderness, or thickening in the breast or under the arms

It is best to check regularly and at all stages of the menstrual cycle to know how the breasts change over time.

A person can also contact their doctor to find out how regularly they recommend breast cancer screening. The United States Preventive Services Task Force recommends screening every 2 years for people ages 40 to 74 years assigned female at birth.

Learn more about how to perform a breast self-exam.

An individual needs to contact a doctor if they notice dimpling or other changes in the breast tissue.

To find out why the dimpling is there, the doctor may:

  • perform a clinical breast exam
  • order further testing, such as a mammogram or ultrasound
  • recommend a biopsy, depending on the results of the imaging tests

In a biopsy, the doctor takes some tissue from the breast to check for cancerous cells.

If a biopsy shows that cancer is present, the doctor may request further tests, for example, a PET or CT scan, to see if the disease has spread to other places.

Diagnostic criteria for inflammatory breast cancer

According to the National Cancer Institute, doctors use the following criteria to help diagnose inflammatory breast cancer:

  • redness, swelling, and ridged or pitted skin that appears suddenly
  • redness affecting at least one-third of the breast
  • warmth in the breast that starts suddenly, either with or without a lump
  • a biopsy that shows that invasive cancer cells are present

A person’s doctor can provide them with more information about any tests they order and what the test results mean.

Learn more about symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer.

If the diagnosis shows inflammatory breast cancer, several treatment options are available. These can depend on the type, stage, and location of the cancer and whether it has spread.

Treatment options may include:

  • Chemotherapy: This involves using medications that either kill cancer cells or prevent them from growing.
  • Surgery: A surgeon removes the cancerous tissue or the entire breast.
  • Radiation: High energy X-rays target cancerous tissue and destroy it.
  • Hormonal therapy: This can block the activity of certain hormones that encourage the growth of cancerous cells.

Before starting treatment, the doctor will discuss with the individual a plan that offers the best likelihood for long-term survival and best meets their goals and wishes.

This may mean combining two or more different types of treatment, especially if the cancer is an aggressive type.

Here are some frequently asked questions about breast dimpling.

Can you have breast dimpling without cancer?

Breast dimpling does not always mean cancer. It can also occur due to fat necrosis, which refers to the death of fat tissue, usually due to injury. However, if a person notices breast dimpling, they need to contact a doctor for an accurate diagnosis.

Can breast dimpling look like stretch marks?

Breast dimpling typically looks like orange peel, giving it the name “peau d’orange.” Some people may feel that the dimpling has a similar appearance to stretch marks.

Dimpling on the breast can indicate inflammatory breast cancer. As this can look like orange peel, it is also known as peau d’orange.

Breast cancer dimpling can occur when cancer cells block the lymph vessels. Regularly examining the breasts can help a person detect any changes in their appearance or texture.

Breast dimpling does not always indicate breast cancer. It can also occur due to fat necrosis. It is important to contact a doctor as soon as a person notices dimpling so that they can receive an accurate diagnosis.

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