Rashes have a habit of attracting attention. The skin may react to a number of triggers with redness, swelling, itching, pain, roughness, or other symptoms.

Many different factors can cause rashes, ranging from harmless to serious. Sometimes, the cause of a rash is clear, such as exposure to poison ivy or similar. Often, a rash appears without an obvious cause but clears up on its own within a few days.

Breast rashes, in particular, require special attention. In some cases, a rash on the breast can be a sign of breast cancer. For this reason, any rash on the breast should be examined by a doctor.

Most of the time, rashes are not cancer. However, because they can be a sign of cancer, rashes and skin changes should be examined by a doctor. Detecting breast cancer as early as possible increases the chances of successful treatment and a cure.

Inflammatory breast cancer

[red spot indicating swollen breast and breast cancer]Share on Pinterest
IBC is a rare and aggressive cancer. The symptoms include breast swelling and redness.

Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) is a rare form of breast cancer that can grow and spread quickly. Its symptoms often appear like a rash or skin irritation and may include:

  • breast swelling
  • thickening of the skin on the breast
  • small ridges or indents that look like orange peel
  • redness of the skin
  • pain, tenderness, or itching
  • feeling of warmth or heaviness in one breast
  • nipple changes, such as inversion, flattening, or dimpling

IBC accounts for 1 to 5 percent of all breast cancers in the United States, according to the National Cancer Institute.

With IBC, the cancer cells interfere with lymph vessels in the skin. This results in the changes in the skin's appearance and texture. Often, a lump cannot be felt in the breast at all, and the cancer may not show up on a mammogram.

IBC usually has no noticeable symptoms until skin changes are seen or felt. Once these changes occur, IBC is at an advanced stage. Treatment is needed quickly to keep it from spreading further.

Common forms of treatment include:

  • chemotherapy to shrink the cancer
  • surgery to remove the cancer
  • radiation therapy
  • hormone therapy, for IBC that has spread in the body or for IBC containing hormone receptors

Paget's disease of the breast

Paget's disease of the breast is a type of cancer that affects the skin on the nipple and usually the skin around the nipple, known as the areola.

[pink breast cancer ribbon with surgical instruments]Share on Pinterest
Paget's disease is usually treated with chemotherapy or by removing part or all of the breast.

A diagnosis of Paget's often means that there is a tumor inside the breast. Most often, a type of invasive breast cancer is found in people who have Paget's disease.

Symptoms of Paget's disease include:

  • a nipple or areola that itches or tingles
  • skin changes on or around the nipple, such as redness, crusting, flaking, or thickening
  • a nipple that becomes flat
  • yellow or bloody discharge from the nipple

Treatment for Paget's disease depends upon where any other tumors in the breast are located. Possible treatments include:

  • removal of the breast, which may include removal of lymph nodes
  • conservative breast surgery that removes the nipple and areola only
  • chemotherapy or hormonal treatments

Conservative breast surgery is often paired with radiation of the breast to treat any other tumors.

Like IBC, Paget's disease is rare. It accounts for 1 to 4 percent of all breast cancer cases, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Breast cancer treatment and rashes

Women who are undergoing treatment for breast cancer may get breast rashes as a result of their treatments. Some breast cancer medications, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, and radiation can all cause breast rashes.

Women who are taking any medications or undergoing breast cancer treatment should ask their healthcare team about possible side effects, including breast rashes.

Breast rashes or changes do not usually mean a person has breast cancer.

However, IBC is aggressive and dangerous and Paget's disease may involve an invasive type of breast cancer. Consequently, any new rash or skin change on the breast should be examined by a doctor.