Red spots and dark brown or purple spots on the breast are usually symptoms of a rash or other skin condition. Less commonly, they can also be a visual sign of breast cancer. They may be red on light skin and purple or dark brown on dark skin.

Being able to recognize the early signs of breast cancer can allow for earlier diagnosis and treatment and improve a person’s outlook.

This article looks at whether spots or a rash on the breast can be a sign of breast cancer.

It also examines other possible causes of spots on the breasts, and when to contact a doctor.

A black and white image of a woman holding her breast.Share on Pinterest
Westend61/Getty Images

Although spots or a rash on the breast are usually symptoms of a noncancerous condition, they can sometimes be an early sign of breast cancer, and a person should monitor them closely.

Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC)

According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, a rash or small irritation that appears similar to a bug bite can be an early symptom of IBC. This is a rare but aggressive form of breast cancer.

A 2018 study notes that IBC accounts for around 2−4% of all breast cancer cases, yet it contributes to 7–10% of breast-cancer-related deaths.

People with IBC typically do not have breast lumps, which are a common symptom in other types of breast cancer.

Other symptoms of IBC include:

  • persistent itching
  • breast swelling and warmth
  • skin inflammation that affects more than one-third of the breast
  • an inverted or retracted nipple
  • a change in breast size as a result of the swelling
  • thickening of the breast skin
  • enlargement or heaviness of the affected breast
  • breast skin that feels and appears thick and pitted, similar to an orange peel
  • swollen lymph nodes under the arms or collarbone

Symptoms typically develop quickly, within 3–6 months.

Paget’s disease of the breast

Spots or a rash on the breast can also be a sign of another rare type of breast cancer known as Paget’s disease of the breast or Paget’s disease of the nipple.

It accounts for around 1–4% of all cases of breast cancer.

Typically, Paget’s disease affects only one nipple, and it can resemble other noncancerous skin conditions, such as eczema and dermatitis.

Signs and symptoms that affect the nipple and areola may include:

  • scaly, inflamed, thickened, and crusted skin
  • very dry skin
  • color changes on the breast
  • pain or itching

Other symptoms of Paget’s disease include:

  • inversion or deformation of the nipple
  • yellowish fluid or blood coming out of the nipple
  • a noticeable mass in the breast, which occurs in around 50% of people

The Breast Cancer Healthline app provides people with access to an online breast cancer community, where users can connect with others and gain advice and support through group discussions.

According to the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS), bug bites usually cause a lump on the skin that can be small, inflamed, painful, and itchy. They usually resolve within a few hours or days.

However, in some cases, people may develop a mild allergic reaction. This can cause a larger area of skin around the bite to become swollen, inflamed, and painful. This usually resolves within a week.

People should contact a doctor if they develop any symptoms of breast cancer or their current symptoms do not resolve and occur alongside other symptoms of breast cancer.

Learn more

Learn more about how to identify bug bites:

Although pimples can be painful and cause localized inflammation and swelling, they do not cause the other symptoms of cancer.

There are different kinds of pimples, including:

  • Whiteheads: These produce a white bump.
  • Blackheads: These appear black on the skin surface.
  • Papules: These are inflamed lesions that appear as small, inflamed bumps. They may also be tender to touch.
  • Pustules: These are inflamed at the base and have pus-filled lesions at the top. The lesions may be white or yellow.
  • Nodules: These are large lesions that can be solid and painful. They are usually deep within the skin.
  • Cystic acne: These are painful lesions filled with pus. They are also deep within the skin.

Bug bites are usually itchy, whereas pimples are not. A bug bite may also appear similar to a pimple if it becomes infected. Infected bug bites may lead to a buildup of pus.

An infected bug bite may also cause symptoms that appear similar to those of breast cancer. These symptoms can include:

  • warmth around the bite
  • swelling and discoloration around the bite
  • swollen lymph nodes
  • pain

If people are concerned about their symptoms, they should contact a doctor.

Learn more about infected insect bites here.

There are many other possible causes of spots or rashes on the breast, including:

Nipple dermatitis

Nipple dermatitis is an inflammation of the skin on the nipple and areola. It usually causes pain.

Causes of nipple dermatitis include:

  • skin irritation due to infant attachment
  • atopic dermatitis and other allergic reactions
  • bacterial, viral, and yeast infections

Learn more about nipple dermatitis here.

Breast abscess

A breast abscess is a buildup of pus in the breast that results from a bacterial infection. The bacteria get inside the breast through the nipple. Breast abscesses can be painful and most commonly affect people who are nursing.

Doctors usually treat abscesses with antibiotics, drainage, or needle aspiration.

Learn more about a breast abscess here.

Mammary duct ectasia

Mammary duct ectasia is a noncancerous, or benign, condition that affects the milk ducts in the breast. The ducts become wider, and their walls get thicker, which can lead to a blockage and buildup of fluid.

It usually causes bloody nipple discharge and redness or tenderness of the nipple and areola. Sometimes, a mass may be present under the areola.

Learn more about mammary duct ectasia here.

Mastitis

Mastitis is a painful inflammation of the breast and is more common in people who are nursing. It results from milk becoming trapped in the breast. This can cause bacteria to multiply, leading to an infection.

It typically causes inflammation, warmth, and tenderness of the affected breast. However, more serious symptoms can include fever, breast abscess, and the serious blood infection septicemia.

Learn more about mastitis here.

Other rashes

Other types of rash that can affect the breast include:

  • Candidiasis: A fungal infection that typically occurs in the skin folds, including under the breasts.
  • Atopic dermatitis: Also known as eczema, atopic dermatitis is an inflammation of the skin that causes redness and itching and may cause the skin to scale, crust over, or ooze fluid.
  • Psoriasis: An inflammatory, chronic skin condition that causes reddish patches of skin covered with silvery scales.
  • Hives: Hives, or urticaria, is an allergic reaction to certain foods, medications, or other substances. It causes inflamed, raised, and itchy skin rashes.
  • Shingles: A nerve infection that causes a painful rash along a nerve that can occur anywhere on the body, including on or near the breast area.
  • Scabies: An itchy skin condition that occurs when small mites burrow into the skin. Scabies is contagious and can spread quickly through close physical contact with infected people.
  • Seborrheic dermatitis: This condition is a common inflammatory skin condition that mainly affects the scalp and causes red and scaly patches. These patches can also appear on the face and upper part of the body, including the breasts.
  • Cellulitis: A potentially serious skin condition, it occurs when bacteria enter the skin through a break or crack and cause swelling, inflammation, warmth, and pain in the affected area. Cellulitis can occur anywhere on the body and spread to other parts.

A spot or rash on the breast is usually not a cause for concern but can sometimes be a sign of a more serious condition, including breast cancer.

People should contact a doctor as soon as possible if the rash occurs alongside any of the following symptoms:

  • changes in the breast skin
  • new spots or rashes on the breast
  • persistent pain that does not improve or resolve
  • swelling, warmth, and inflammation of the breast
  • fever
  • wounds that do not heal
  • fluid leaking from the rash
  • streaks coming from the rash

A person should also contact a doctor for any rash that does not go away after a while or any rash that appears severe or causes other symptoms that raise concerns.

In most cases, a spot or rash on the breast is not a major cause of concern. There are a number of benign conditions that can cause these symptoms.

However, a person should consider speaking with a doctor if they are concerned about their symptoms, such as pain, swelling of the breast, or changes in the nipple.

Read the article in Spanish here.