Are My Itchy Breasts a Symptom of Inflammatory Breast Cancer?

What causes itchy breasts and when to worry.

woman examining breast
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Many girls and women experience itchy breasts but aren't certain when this sensation is a symptom of inflammatory breast cancer. This form of breast cancer is uncommon, but the disease has received an increasing amount of media attention. The heightened awareness stems from the symptoms of IBC, which are quite different from more common forms of breast cancer.

While many people associate breast cancer symptoms with breast lumps, most aren't aware that symptoms like breast pain, swelling, and reddening of the skin are also signs of the disease.

Even more surprising is that having itchy breasts can be a symptom of this aggressive type of breast cancer. 

Women should know that itchy breasts may be indicative of something serious, like breast cancer, but is most likely caused by a much less serious condition. 

When Breast Itching Signals Cancer

In certain circumstances, itching should be medically evaluated as soon as possible. If itching is accompanied by other breast symptoms, see a doctor. These symptoms include:

  • reddening of the breast
  • dimpling or pitting of the breast resembling an orange peel appearance
  • breast pain
  • breast swelling, thickening, or sudden growth of one or both breasts that is not related to puberty or weight gain
  • breast warmth
  • breast becoming harder

These signs and symptoms are worrisome for inflammatory breast cancer, which accounts for about one percent of all breast cancer diagnoses in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society.

Additionally, itching limited to the nipple or outwards to the areola may be worrisome for a rare type of breast cancer called Paget's disease of the breast. In this cancer, there is usually a red, thick, sometimes crusted lesion on the nipple that resembles eczema. It can cause pain or itching and sometimes the nipple is also deformed or retracted.

Benign (Harmless) Causes of Itchy Breasts

Mastitis

Breast pain, redness, warmth, and itching may be seen with a breast infection like mastitis. If your doctor suspects an infection as the culprit, she will treat you with antibiotics. If the symptoms do not improve within a week, further tests should be done to look for cancer, especially inflammatory breast cancer. 

Dermatitis

The most common cause of itchy breasts is a dermatologic reaction to something your skin has been exposed to recently. Common culprits include new clothes, washing detergents, perfumes, lotions, shampoos and dry skin. The solution is simple—eliminate any irritants and keep the skin moisturized.

Most women find relief by using products labeled unscented and perfume or dye free. Products targeted for sensitive skin usually do not contain ingredients that are common irritants. Whether you use a washing machine to wash your bras or wash them by hand, always make sure they are thoroughly rinsed with water. Residue from the detergent can irritate the skin and cause itching.

Yeast Infection

You may be familiar with vaginal yeast infections, but did you know that the skin can experience an overgrowth of yeast that can cause itching? Wearing a bra that doesn't allow the skin to breathe or wearing one for many hours daily can create a dark and moist environment that allow fungi to grow and thrive in. When fungal infections affect the breast, it most likely causes itchiness under the breasts and on the sides of the breasts. You might find relief with OTC anti-fungal creams or your doctor can prescribe a stronger anti-fungal medication.

To prevent yeast growth under the breasts, try wearing bras made of a breathable fabric, like cotton. After showering, make sure the area under your breasts is completely dry before putting on a bra. Additionally, avoid wearing a bra at night. If you workout, wear a bra made of a wicking fabric that keeps sweat and moisture away from the skin. 

Post-Surgical Reaction

If you have had recent breast surgery, itching can be a normal part of recovery. Breast enlargement surgery can especially cause itchiness. The skin of the breast stretches to accommodate the implant and the result can be itchy breasts. Most women find that the itching goes away within a few months after surgery. If itchiness is persistent and intolerable, you should consult your surgeon or primary care doctor. 

Other Benign Causes

Finally, weight gain, puberty, and pregnancy all commonly cause the breasts to become bigger, which can cause itching as the skin stretches. Although not common, the nickel in underwire of bras can cause an allergic reaction in some women as well. Nickel free underwire bras can be purchased online at specialty retailers.

A Word From Verywell

While itchy breasts are certainly not a slam dunk indication you have breast cancer, it is important to see your doctor for a proper evaluation. Likewise, it is also a good idea to talk with your doctor about breast cancer preventive strategies like undergoing a mammogram. 

Sources:

American Cancer Society. (2015). What are the signs and symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer?

Karakas C. Paget's disease of the breast. J Carcinog. 2011;10:31.

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