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Symptoms – Skin Changes

Breast cancer may first appear as changes to the skin of the breast. Changes to the skin may appear as1:

  • Dimpling
  • Puckering
  • Swelling
  • Multiple dimples that make the breast skin resemble an orange skin (called peau d’orange)
  • Scaly, flaky, or red skin on the nipple or areola (the darkened skin around the nipple)

Any changes to the breast tissue, including changes to the skin, should be discussed with a doctor. While many breast changes are not due to cancer, any change in a woman’s normal breast tissue should be brought to a doctor’s attention. Additional tests may be needed to determine if the cause is cancer or a non-cancerous condition, including mammography, ultrasound, or biopsy.

Symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer

Inflammatory breast cancer is a rare type of breast cancer that may not form a tumor that can be felt, but causes the breast to look inflamed: red, warm, and swollen. Only 1-5% of all breast cancers are inflammatory breast cancer. Inflammatory breast cancer may not form a tumor, but the cancerous cells block the lymph vessels, causing the symptoms of swelling and redness.2

Symptoms of Paget disease of the nipple

Paget disease is a rare form of breast cancer that causes changes to the skin of the nipple and areola (the darkened skin around the nipple). The nipple area may appear scaly, flaky, crusty, or red, and the skin can burn, tingle, or itch. There may also be discharge from the nipple. Paget disease of the nipple begins in the milk ducts and spreads to the nipple and areola. Many people with Paget disease also have one or more tumors inside the same breast tissue.3,4

When breast cancer spreads to the skin

In some cases, breast cancer can spread to the skin. This may occur at the time of the initial diagnosis or it may occur as a recurrence of breast cancer. When breast cancer spreads to the skin, it may cause symptoms such as5:

  • Persistent rash
  • Changes in the color of the skin
  • Swelling
  • Pain
  • Infection, or it may look like an infection

If you notice any changes such as these, talk to your doctor.

Other symptoms of breast cancer

Besides changes to the skin of the breast, breast cancers may cause additional symptoms, including1:

  1. Breast cancer treatment (PDQ). National Cancer Institute. Available at https://www.cancer.gov/types/breast/patient/breast-treatment-pdq. Accessed 7/27/18.
  2. Inflammatory breast cancer. American Cancer Society. Available at https://www.cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer/understanding-a-breast-cancer-diagnosis/types-of-breast-cancer/inflammatory-breast-cancer.html. Accessed 7/27/18.
  3. Paget disease of the breast. National Cancer Institute. Available at https://www.cancer.gov/types/breast/paget-breast-fact-sheet. Accessed 7/30/18.
  4. Paget disease of the nipple. American Cancer Society. Available at https://www.cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer/understanding-a-breast-cancer-diagnosis/types-of-breast-cancer/paget-disease-of-the-nipple.html. Accessed 7/30/18.
  5. Secondary breast cancer that has spread to the skin (skin metastases). Breast Cancer Care. Available at https://www.breastcancercare.org.uk/information-support/secondary-metastatic-breast-cancer/secondary-breast-cancer-diagnosis/secondary-breast-cancer-has-spread-skin-skin-metastases. Accessed 7/30/18.