Breast Rash

Overview

What is breast rash?

Eruptions, inflammation, and redness or other discoloration of the skin are all signs of a rash. For a rash on the breasts, it is important to determine if the cause is related to a general skin condition or if it is a sign of a more serious disease such as breast cancer.

Possible Causes

What are the most common causes of breast rash?

Common skin rashes

Common skin rashes can include:

The rashes listed above are not associated specifically with the breasts—they can appear virtually anywhere on the body, including the breasts.

Viral conditions such as measles, chickenpox or shingles could also produce rashes in the breast area. As with the conditions listed above, they are not due to a specific disorder of the breasts. They can, however, have serious health consequences and should be examined and treated as soon as possible.

Dermatitis or eczema of the nipple may occur in some breastfeeding women, as the nipples become irritated by the baby’s mouth, tight clothing or trapped moisture. Eczema of the nipple and areola can also be seen in women who are not breastfeeding .

Inflammatory breast cancer

Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) is an aggressive breast cancer that develops when cancer cells get into lymph vessels draining the skin of the breast. When the vessels become blocked by cancer cells, symptoms begin to appear. These include:

  • Thickened skin
  • Rash or irritation that resembles an infection
  • Red, swollen and warm breast
  • Pitted skin on the breast, similar to that of an orange peel

Mastitis

Mastitis is a painful swelling of the breast that occurs most often in breastfeeding women, usually within three months of giving birth. An infection occurs when milk builds up inside the breast due to a clogged duct or some other factor that slows or prevents the flow of milk. This can also happen when breaks in the skin of the nipple allow bacteria to enter. Symptoms develop quickly and include:

It is also possible for non-breastfeeding women to experience mastitis, usually as a result of a cracked or sore nipple, or a nipple piercing allowing bacteria to get into the milk duct.

Breast abscess

A breast abscess is a buildup of pus underneath the skin of the breast caused by bacterial infection. A breast abscess is often linked to untreated mastitis, and usually affects women who are breastfeeding. The most common cause of mastitis or breast abscess in non-breast-feeding women is duct ectasia, a condition where the ducts behind the nipple are enlarged and can harbor secretions containing bacteria.

Symptoms include:

  • Red and inflamed skin
  • Skin that is warm to the touch
  • Fever
  • Localized swelling

Mammary duct ectasia

Mammary duct ectasia is a non-cancerous condition that occurs when a milk duct in the breast widens and its walls thicken. As a result, the duct becomes blocked and leads to a buildup of fluid. Many times this condition will cause no symptoms and is only found when conducting a biopsy for another breast condition. If symptoms do occur, they can include:

  • Discharge of thick white toothpaste-like material from the nipple
  • Redness and tenderness in the nipple and nearby breast tissue
  • Inverted nipple
  • Scar tissue around the affected milk duct causes a noticeable lump that may be confused with cancer

An ultrasound or mammogram can be performed to get a clear picture of the breast’s condition. If a lump is present, a biopsy may be done to ensure that no cancer is present.

Paget’s disease of the breast

Paget’s disease of the breast is a rare form of breast cancer (1 to 4 percent of all cases of breast cancer) that involves the skin of the nipple and can extend onto the areola (the dark-colored skin around the nipple). Most people with this disease also have one or more tumors in the same breast, the most common tumors being either ductal carcinoma in situ or invasive breast cancer.

In Paget’s disease of the breast, cancerous cells are found in the top layer of the skin of the nipple and areola. Such cells are identified when looked at under a microscope following tissue biopsy. It is not yet certain whether cancer cells from tumors inside the breast travel through the milk duct and deposit on the nipple, or whether cancer can develop separately in just the nipple.

Symptoms of the disease include:

  • Itching, tingling, or redness in the nipple area
  • Flaky, crusty, or thickened skin (resembling eczema)
  • A flattened nipple
  • Yellow or bloody leakage from the skin of the nipple

Care and Treatment

How is breast rash treated?

Common skin rashes

Treatments for many common rashes include avoiding irritants on the skin. This can include soaps or cosmetics that produce an allergic reaction, particular types of clothing material, or friction from a bra or clothing. A medication or topical ointment may be prescribed. In most cases, the rash is cleared up or at least managed without any great risk to overall health.

Dermatitis or eczema of the nipple may occur in some breastfeeding women, as the nipples become irritated by the baby’s mouth, tight clothing or trapped moisture. Consulting with a doctor or lactation specialist is recommended in such cases, as treatments in women who are breastfeeding may not be the same as for women who are not breastfeeding.

Rashes that occur due to a viral infection such as chickenpox, shingles or measles should be treated at the source of the problem (i.e., the virus), and not as a skin disorder. This would include the use of an anti-viral medication, bed rest, pain relievers and keeping control over any fever.

Inflammatory breast cancer

Inflammatory breast cancer is diagnosed after a thorough examination and tissue biopsy (examination of a tissue sample underneath a microscope). From the outset, it is classified as a Stage three (out of four stages) cancer, meaning that it is well advanced and must be treated immediately. Treatment may include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and hormone therapy, usually beginning with chemotherapy.

Mastitis

Treatment for mastitis usually consists of antibiotics to fight the infection. If this does not help within about a week, a skin biopsy should be taken to be sure cancer is not present. Some of the symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer and mastitis are similar, so it is necessary to quickly find the exact cause of the symptoms that appear.

Breast abscess

Treatment of a breast abscess consists of draining pus from the infected area. If the infection is small, a syringe and needle may be used. If it is a large infection, a small incision in the skin may be required to ensure proper drainage. In either case, a local anesthetic is used to numb the area to block pain during the procedure.

Mammary duct ectasia

The symtoms of mammary duct ectasia may improve on its own without any specific treatments. Warm compresses and antibiotics may be used in some cases. If necessary, the abnormal duct can be surgically removed.

Paget’s disease of the breast

Treatment of Paget’s disease of the breast includes removal of the nipple and areola, and radiation of the entire breast if no underlying tumors are detected. If tumors are present, their surgical removal or a mastectomy may be needed depending on how far the cancer has progressed.

When to Call the Doctor

What symptoms of breast rash are cause for concern?

Whenever breast rash is accompanied by other symptoms such as infection, fever, a lump underneath the skin, swelling of the throat, or failure to get better after a reasonable period of treatment, a doctor should be consulted. It can be difficult to self-diagnose the cause of a breast rash, and in some cases a delay in treatment can be the difference between a successful outcome and a more serious health condition.

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Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy