Breast Rash

Overview

What is a breast rash?

Irritation, inflammation and changes in the usual texture, appearance and color of your skin are all signs of a skin rash. A rash on your breast can appear similar to other rashes that develop on other parts of your body. They can be itchy, scaly, blistered or painful. Sometimes a breast rash doesn’t cause any pain or itchiness but causes small spots to appear on your skin. Breast rashes can affect the area under your breasts, between your breasts or on the skin around your nipple.

There can be many potential causes of breast rash. While most rashes on your breast happen due to bug bites, allergic reactions, irritants or infection, some breast rashes are a sign of breast cancer.

What do breast cancer rashes look like?

Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) and Paget disease of the breast are two types of cancers that affect the skin of your breast:

  • Inflammatory breast cancer causes your skin to become red and eventually dimple or pit, taking on the texture of an orange peel. Other symptoms can include pain and swelling and an inverted nipple.
  • Paget disease of the breast causes the skin in your nipple to get dry, crusty and red. This is a sign of breast cancer that starts in your nipple. Ultimately, your areola, or the skin around your nipple, can become involved.

Possible Causes

What would cause a rash on your breast?

The skin on your breast isn’t any different than skin on other parts of your body. Most breast rashes happen from the same type of conditions that affect your arms, legs, chest, back and other parts of your body. However, there are some rashes that can only happen on your breasts.

Common skin rashes

Common skin rashes can include:

  • Dermatitis: This is a catch-all term to describe any type of irritation, discoloration or inflammation on your skin. There are many different types of dermatitis.
  • Eczema: A common type of dermatitis that causes your skin to become dry, red, itchy and bumpy, particularly on the areola.
  • Yeast infections: A common type of fungal infection that can affect any part of your body. On your breasts, it may appear as a discolored rash that itches or as pimples or patches that ooze fluid, most commonly beneath the breasts.
  • Heat rash: A rash on your skin that happens due to a blocked sweat gland or sweat staying on your skin for an extended time. It can develop on your breasts, especially underneath your breasts or where your breasts rub against clothing.
  • Insect bites: Getting bitten by a mosquito causes a small, raised welt anywhere on your skin. Bed bug bites can also cause tiny bumps and itchy skin. Bug bites can happen on any skin on your body.
  • Poison ivy: A rash that happens after coming in contact with urushiol, an oily residue on certain plants.
  • Hives: Welts or raised bumps that appear on your skin due to an allergic reaction to stress, food, medication or other factors. Hives can appear anywhere on your body, including your chest or breast area.
  • Psoriasis: A skin rash that causes itchy, dry patches that resemble scales. It’s more common on your knees, elbows and scalp, but can happen anywhere on your body (including your breasts).
  • Scabies: A skin condition caused by little bugs that make tunnels under your skin and cause small red bumps and severe itching. It can affect the skin on your breasts, specifically around your nipple.
  • Seborrheic dermatitis: Another type of dermatitis that causes red, dry, flaky, itchy skin. It’s most common on your scalp but can appear other places like your breasts. Dandruff and cradle cap on infants are examples of seborrheic dermatitis.
  • Shingles: This is a viral infection that causes a painful rash that blisters.
  • Measles and chickenpox: These viruses can also affect the skin of your breast in addition to other parts of your body.
  • Other allergic reactions or irritants: Things like metal on jewelry, scents from soap, perfumes or dryer sheets, chemicals, food additives or outdoor irritants (like grass) can all cause the skin on your breast to develop a rash.

The rashes above aren’t associated specifically with your breasts — they can appear anywhere on your body, including your breasts. These are mostly harmless but can cause discomfort. See a dermatologist or your primary care physician for treatment.

Inflammatory breast cancer

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

  • Discolored, thickened skin.
  • Pitted skin on your breast (resembling an orange peel).
  • Breast swelling.
  • Itching (less common).

Mastitis

Mastitis is a painful swelling of your breast that occurs most often in people who are breastfeeding (chestfeeding). But it can also occur in any woman or person assigned female at birth (AFAB), particularly if you smoke or have diabetes. Symptoms develop quickly and include:

  • Pain.
  • Redness and sometimes streaking.
  • Skin that’s warm to the touch.
  • Occasionally, fever and flu-like symptoms.

Breast abscess

A breast abscess is a buildup of pus underneath the skin of your breast caused by bacterial infection. A breast abscess can be due to untreated mastitis, and often affects people who are breastfeeding. The most common cause of breast abscess in people who aren’t breastfeeding is mammary duct ectasia.

Symptoms include:

  • Pain and redness which often localizes over the fluid collection (which can feel like a lump).
  • Skin that’s warm to the touch.
  • Fever.
  • Swelling.

Mammary duct ectasia

Mammary duct ectasia is a condition that occurs when your milk ducts widen. These milk ducts contain debris which can sometimes become infected. Symptoms can include:

  • Discharge of thick, white toothpaste-like material from your nipple.
  • Redness and tenderness in your nipple and nearby breast tissue.
  • Nipple inversion.
  • Nipple fistulas (occasionally).

Paget disease of the breast

Paget disease of the breast is a rare form of breast cancer (1% to 4% of all cases of breast cancer) that first involves the skin of your nipple and can then extend onto the areola (the dark-colored skin around your nipple). Most people with this disease also have an underlying mass containing cancer in their breast.

In Paget disease of the breast, cancerous cells are found in the top layer of the skin of your nipple and areola. It’s not yet certain whether cancer cells from tumors inside your breast travel through your milk duct and deposit on your nipple, or whether cancer can develop separately in just your nipple.

Diagnosis is often made with a biopsy of your nipple or of any underlying mass.

Symptoms of the disease include:

  • Itching, tingling or redness on your nipple.
  • Flaky, crusty or thickened skin (resembling eczema).
  • Nipple erosion.
  • A flat or inverted nipple.
  • Yellow or bloody leakage from the skin around your nipple.

Care and Treatment

How do you treat a rash on your breast?

Treatment for a rash on your breast depends on the cause. You should contact a healthcare provider for an evaluation.

Common skin rashes

Treatment for dermatitis (skin irritation) includes topical steroids and avoiding the substance causing the irritation. This can include soaps or cosmetics that produce an allergic reaction, particular types of clothing material or friction from a bra or clothing.

If you’re breastfeeding, your pregnancy care provider or a lactation consultant may help with nipple dermatitis or fungal infection. Treatment for people who are breastfeeding may be different than for people who aren’t breastfeeding. This is because certain medications pass into breastmilk and may affect your baby.

Providers treat rashes that occur due to a viral infection such as chickenpox, shingles or measles with antiviral medications, rest and pain relievers.

Inflammatory breast cancer

Healthcare providers diagnose inflammatory breast cancer after a thorough examination of the breast and often a tissue biopsy of your nipple or an underlying mass. This requires prompt treatment.

Mastitis

Treatment for mastitis usually consists of antibiotics to fight the infection. Symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer and mastitis may be similar, so it’s necessary to make sure that the rash completely resolves.

Breast abscess

Treatment of a breast abscess consists of draining pus from the infected area. If the infection is small, your provider may use a syringe and needle, often under ultrasound guidance by a radiologist. If it’s a large infection, a small incision may be required to drain the pus. In either case, your provider uses a local anesthetic to numb the area first.

Mammary duct ectasia

The symptoms of mammary duct ectasia may improve without any specific treatments. Warm compresses and antibiotics can help. If necessary, a surgeon can remove the abnormal duct.

Paget disease of the breast

Treatment of Paget disease of the breast is the same as any other breast cancer. A person may choose lumpectomy which includes removing your nipple and areola and radiation, or mastectomy.

How can I take care of breast rash at home?

Most of the time a breast rash isn’t an emergency.

  • Don’t scratch your skin.
  • Place a warm washcloth over your rash for a few minutes several times a day.
  • Think about using fragrance-free products for sensitive skin and avoiding fragranced detergents and dryer sheets.
  • Apply over-the-counter (OTC) lotions or take antihistamines.

Consult with a healthcare provider if you’re unsure what kind of rash you’re dealing with. They can help you be sure that it’s not something serious.

Care at Cleveland Clinic

When to Call the Doctor

Is it normal to get a rash on your breast?

Yes, your breast is like other areas of skin on your body. It’s common to get rashes on your breast, especially rashes caused by medication, infection, food, insects, allergic reactions and other irritants.

Because some breast rashes can be signs of cancer, it’s important to speak with a healthcare provider about your symptoms. They can examine and diagnose skin conditions that affect your breast.

When should I be concerned about a rash on my breast?

Contact a healthcare provider if other symptoms accompany a breast rash such as:

  • A lump or mass underneath the reddened area.
  • Swollen lymph nodes in your armpits or neck.
  • Fever or pain.
  • Signs of infection like oozing pus or discharge.
  • Rashes that contain fluid or begin to blister.
  • Your nipple goes flat or inverts.
  • Your skin looks dimpled like an orange peel.

It can be difficult to self-diagnose the cause of a breast rash, and in some cases a delay in medical treatment can be the difference between a successful outcome and a more serious health condition.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

A rash on your breast is usually not a cause for concern. However, some breast cancers cause symptoms that cause your skin to swell, change texture or change color. Common causes of breast rash could be bug bites, hives, allergic reactions or skin conditions like eczema or dermatitis. Contact a healthcare provider if you suspect the rash on your breast is serious or it doesn’t go away in a reasonable amount of time. A provider can perform a mammogram or a biopsy to determine a cause and recommend treatment.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 11/30/2022.

References

  • American Cancer Society. Duct Ectasia. (https://www.cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer/non-cancerous-breast-conditions/duct-ectasia.html) Accessed 11/30/2022.
  • American Cancer Society. Mastitis. (https://www.cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer/non-cancerous-breast-conditions/mastitis.html) Accessed 11/30/2022.
  • American Society of Breast Surgeons Foundation's breast360.org program. Breast Abscess. (https://breast360.org/topics/2017/01/01/breast-abscess) Accessed 11/30/2022.
  • National Breast Cancer Foundation. Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC). (https://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/inflammatory-breast-cancer) Accessed 11/30/2022.
  • National Breast Cancer Foundation. What is a breast rash? (https://nbcf.org.au/about-breast-cancer/detection-and-awareness/breast-rashes/) Accessed 11/30/2022.
  • National Cancer Institute. Paget Disease of the Breast Fact Sheet. (https://www.cancer.gov/types/breast/paget-breast-fact-sheet) Accessed 11/30/2022.

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