“A bruise suddenly appeared on my breast. Should I worry?” — Lori
We receive many questions from concerned women here at HealthCentral.com’s breast cancer site, and one of the most common themes involves changes in breast appearance.
Most women probably know that a new breast lump is a possible breast cancer symptom. But how about a rash, a crease, a patch of rough skin — or a bruise? Should any of those be concerning?
Any breast change should be assessed, first by the woman herself, and later by a doctor if necessary. If you feel a lump and you’re past menopause, call your doctor. If you’re still having periods, it’s OK to wait a few weeks to see if the lump disappears; most breast lumps in pre-menopausal women are the result of fluctuating hormones, not cancer.
But changes in appearance are more problematic. The vast majority of the time, a swollen breast, red skin, or a bruise is the result of an infection, an allergy, or an injury — not cancer. The challenge is that all of these symptoms also can indicate inflammatory breast cancer (IBC), a rare but aggressive form of the disease that’s easy to misdiagnose.
How do you determine if a bruise, a rash, or any other external change is serious enough to call the doctor?
See a doctor soon if:
- The change is accompanied by worsening pain, swelling, redness, internal itching, or sudden enlargement of the breast
- The change has been treated (e.g., antibiotics) but hasn’t disappeared
- You notice swollen lymph nodes under your arm or near your collarbone
- Your nipple has become inverted (turned inward)
It’s OK to wait and see if:
- The change has just appeared; it’s reasonable to wait a few days and see what develops
- The change is mild: a small patch of rough skin; a mild, small bruise; a faint dent
- You suspect an external cause, like a chlorine rash or sun damage
- You recently sustained a blow to the breast
According to the National Cancer Institute, IBC symptoms are often shared by other, less serious conditions; thus, women with IBC are often misdiagnosed. The challenge is balancing that information with the fact that a typical woman has only a one in eight chance of developing breast cancer and IBC accounts for only one to five percent of all breast cancer diagnoses.
So, is that bruise you see something to worry about? Don’t stress, because the odds are overwhelmingly in your favor, but do pay attention to it. If it’s worsening, and/or doesn’t show signs of disappearing; or if it’s accompanied by other changes, call your doctor. Chances are it’s not IBC, but you do need to rule the possibility out.
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Breast cancer survivor and award-winning author PJ Hamel, a long-time contributor to the HealthCentral community, counsels women with breast cancer through the volunteer program at her local hospital. She founded and manages a large and active online survivor support network.
PJ Hamel is senior digital content editor and food writer at King Arthur Flour, and a James Beard award-winning author. A 16-year breast cancer survivor, her passion is helping women through this devastating disease. She manages a large and active online survivor support network based at her local hospital and shares her wisdom and experience with the greater community via HealthCentral.com.