In certain cases of breast cancer, the breast may become warm to the touch. While warmth may be due to other, non-cancerous causes, any change in the breast tissue from what is normal for the individual should be brought to the attention of a doctor. If the breast is warm to the touch, it may be accompanied by additional symptoms, such as swelling or redness.
A rare form of breast cancer, called inflammatory breast cancer, can cause the breast to look inflamed: red or purple, warm, tender, and swollen. Inflammatory breast cancer may also cause a thickening of the skin of the breast, itching, an inverted (turning inward) nipple, and the skin may have multiple dimples, resembling an orange peel. Inflammatory breast cancer may not form a tumor, but the cancerous cells block the lymph vessels, causing the symptoms of swelling and redness. Inflammatory breast cancer is an aggressive form of cancer that grows and spreads quickly, and any symptoms should be immediately checked by a healthcare professional. Because inflammatory breast cancer spreads to the skin, it is always diagnosed as locally advanced breast cancer (at least stage III).1
Mastitis is an inflammation of the breast, which may be caused by an infection. Mastitis frequently occurs in women who are breastfeeding, although other women and men can also develop mastitis. Symptoms of mastitis may appear suddenly and can include fever, chills, breast swelling, tenderness, warmth, redness, thickening of breast tissue, and pain or burning sensation (ongoing or during breastfeeding).2
Mastitis can be caused by a blocked milk duct and/or bacterium entering the milk ducts.2 To diagnose whether a person has mastitis or inflammatory breast cancer, several tests may be performed, including1,2:
Mastitis may potentially be treated with antibiotics and pain relievers, as recommended by a patient’s doctor.2 If symptoms of mastitis do not resolve with a course of antibiotics, additional tests may be run to rule out inflammatory breast cancer.1
Other symptoms of breast cancer
Besides warmth, breast cancers may cause other symptoms such as3:
Discharge from the nipple (other than breast milk), possibly bloody fluid
Changes to the areola (the darker area of skin around the nipple), including scaly, red, or swollen tissue
Multiple dimples on the skin of the breast that resembles an orange skin (peau d’orange)
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.
Mastitis. Mayo Clinic. Available at https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/mastitis/symptoms-causes/syc-20374829. Accessed 7/30/18.
Breast cancer treatment (PDQ). National Cancer Institute. Available at https://www.cancer.gov/types/breast/patient/breast-treatment-pdq. Accessed 7/30/18.