“I’ve had an itchy breast for some time now. Could it be breast cancer?”
This question, or a variation on the theme, is one of the most common queries we get in the question and answer forum here at HealthCentral’s breast cancer site. Women (and girls) worry about a breast that’s suddenly started to itch in one specific spot; both breasts exhibiting a feeling of internal itchiness; itchy nipples; an itchy rash, and assorted other symptoms related to itchiness.
The good news is, itchiness — whether it’s one breast, both, internal, external, the entire breast, a rash, or just the nipple — is seldom a sign of breast cancer. Most often, itchiness can be attributed to dry skin, allergies, environmental irritants (e.g., a reaction to chlorine from too much swimming), or hormonal fluctuations.
Occasionally, itchiness can be a breast cancer symptom. Women diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer will sometimes report itchiness as an initial symptom, though it’s nearly always accompanied by other more serious symptoms. And an itchy nipple can signal Paget disease of the breast, though again, it would probably be accompanied by flaking skin and other symptoms. Together, these two subtypes account for less than 10 percent of all breast cancer diagnoses.
Are you experiencing breast itchiness? Wondering whether you should see a doctor immediately, or if it’s OK to wait? Here are some guidelines for assessing the seriousness of that itch!
See a doctor soon if the itchiness is accompanied by:
- Breast swelling, redness, heat, pain, or a dimpled appearance to the skin
- Flaking skin/redness around the nipple, a lump under the nipple, or bloody discharge
Wait and see what develops if the itching:
- Is unaccompanied by any other symptoms
- Is felt in both breasts (which would point away from cancer)
- Comes and goes on a schedule; your breasts become itchy at a certain time every month, then the itching abates
- Feels like it’s on the surface of the breast, rather than internal
- Could be the result of dry skin; apply moisturizing cream for several days and see if it helps
- Could be the result of a new shower gel, laundry detergent, or bra
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Breast cancer survivor and award-winning authorPJ 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.