Most often, skin changes that you notice in you breasts are due to benign, non-cancerous conditions. It is important, however, to see your doctor if you notice any abnormalities, particularly if they do not resolve within a few days, as skin changes can be particularly prominent in some types of breast cancer. Other, common skin problems can also occur in the breast, such as moles and skin infections.
Skin puckering or dimpling
Dimpling can often result from scar tissue forming in the breast, whether due to previous surgery, infection or obesity. However a specific type of dimpling known as ‘Peau d’orange’ is important to recognize as it is associated with inflammatory breast cancer. The skin over the breast will resemble an orange peel due to cancer cells blocking the lymph vessels in the skin over the breast.
Warmth, redness and pain
Warmth, redness and pain in the breast typically indicates mastitis, an infection or inflammation of the breast that is very common in breastfeeding women. Mastitis can be easily treated, and your doctor may prescribe antibiotics.
Rarely, this may be due to an inflammatory breast cancer (IBC), and so it should be addressed promptly by your doctor.
Itchiness, flaking and scaly skin
Itchiness with flaking, crusty or scaly skin can be a sign of a bacterial or fungal infection, or often eczema, and these can be treated by your doctor. If this is over the nipples, it may be a sign of Paget’s disease, a rare form of breast cancer.
Thickened skin and “peau d’orange”
Thickening of the skin and “peau d’orange”, where the skin of the breast appears pitted like the peel of an orange with large pores, may develop in mastitis or in inflammatory breast cancer, a rare form of breast cancer. It is crucial to treat inflammatory breast cancer as soon as possible, and you should see your doctor immediately.
Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC)
Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC), a rare but aggressive form of breast cancer, often does not produce a discrete, palpable tumour, cancer cells block the lymphatic drainage of the breast.
This produces symptoms similar to mastitis. Early in the course of IBC, a persistent, itchy rash, or small patches of irritation similar to an insect bite, may be the only signs.
The breast often becomes red, swollen and warm, as it becomes inflamed. A sign called “peau d’orange”, where the skin appears pitted like the peel of an orange, may develop, and the nipple may become inverted or flat.