Women should always be cognizant of the warning signs of breast cancer, but sometimes over-vigilance can make you a nervous wreck. The question sometimes is — are these signs pointing to potential cancer or are they a side issue?
Such is the case when you develop red spots on your breasts. Should you worry about them as pointing to potential breast cancer? Or is the cause something far less ominous, such as a simple skin rash?
The answer can be either, but here are some things to look for if you see red spots on your breasts.
Are these spots a sign of breast cancer?
Red spots or a red rash on your breast usually are pointing to a noncancerous simple skin rash, even something like eczema. But they can be an early sign of breast cancer, and they need to be monitored accordingly.
Red spots are a sign of inflammatory breast cancer (IBC), a rare but very aggressive form of breast cancer. In the U.S., IBC accounts for only from 2-4 percent of breast cancer cases, yet it contributes to 7-10 percent of the deaths from breast cancer. Unlike most forms of breast cancer, women with IBC don’t develop breast lumps.
As IBC affects the skin and the lymph vessels of the breast, these are typical symptoms:
- Rapid changes in the skin around the affected breast
- Redness and warmth of the skin of the breasts
- Breast swelling
- Breast pain
- Thickening of the breast skin
- Enlargement or heaviness of the affected breast
- Breast skin that feels thick and pitted, akin to an orange peel
Red spots or a red rash on the breast can also point to another rare type of breast cancer called Paget’s disease of the breast. Paget’s disease of the breast accounts for around 1-4 percent of all cases of breast cancer. It is more common in older women, with an average age of diagnosis of 57 years. Paget’s usually starts by affecting the skin of the nipple, and it then spreads to the areola. It typically only affects one nipple/areola, and patients can discount is as a simple case of dermatitis or eczema.
These are signs and symptoms of Paget’s on the nipple and areola:
- Scaly, red, thickened and crusted skin
- Very dry skin
- Color changes
- Pain or itching
- Inversion or deformation of the nipple
- Yellowish fluid or blood coming from the nipple
- A noticeable mass in the breast
Other causes of a breast rash or red spots
In most cases, red spots or a rash on your breast aren’t pointing to breast cancer. There can be a variety of causes:
- Nipple dermatitis— this is usually a type of eczema, which is similar to an allergic reaction by the body’s immune system.
- Breast abscess— If bacteria get into the breast through the nipple during breastfeeding, they can create an infection and an abscess.
- Mastitis— Inflammation of the breast that occurs during breastfeeding when milk is trapped in the breast and an infection occurs.
- Rashes— There are many other rashes that can develop: candidiasis (a fungal infection), atopic dermatitis (eczema), psoriasis, hives, shingles, scabies, and cellulitis (a skin condition when bacteria enter the skin through a break or crack).
When should I see a doctor for the red spots on my breasts?
As you can see, there are plenty of reasons your breasts can develop a rash or red spots. If a rash develops, along with any of the following symptoms, then it’s time to see your doctor.