Breast Cancer vs. Pimple Signs: What to Look For

While skin changes are common as you age and most are harmless, some changes in the breast may be a sign of cancer. Pimples on your breast, however, typically do not indicate cancer.

Breast cancer may cause skin changes, but several other possible causes exist. Breast acne generally improves over time, and breast cancer symptoms worsen.

This article will provide an overview of the differences between breast pimples vs. breast cancer and how to recognize both conditions. 

A woman performing a breast self-exam

stefanamer / Getty Images

Breast Pimple vs. Breast Cancer Skin Changes

Breast cancer is a type of cancer that starts in the breast tissue. Common symptoms of breast cancer include:

  • New lump 
  • Nipple pulling in 
  • Nipple discharge 
  • Change in the shape of the breast 
  • Breast pain 

Breast cancer often causes skin changes in the breasts. Possible skin symptoms of breast cancer are:

  • Skin thickening or swelling
  • Skin irritation 
  • Skin dimpling 
  • Redness
  • Flaking 
  • Orange-peel texture 


Acne, which causes skin lesions (pimples), often occurs on the face, neck, back, chest, and shoulders. Pimples are caused by the skin’s oil glands making too much sebum (oil), which clogs the skin’s pores. Acne is the most common skin disease, and most people experience it at some point in their lives. People who menstruate may notice that acne is related to menstrual cycles. 

Common symptoms of breast acne are:

  • Closed clogged pores (whiteheads)
  • Open clogged pores (blackheads)
  • Small, red bumps (papules)
  • Bumps with pus (pustules) 

Talk with a healthcare provider if you notice changes in the skin on your breasts. To detect changes, start a monthly routine of examining your breasts. If you menstruate, plan to complete your exam several days after your menstrual cycle ends because your breasts will be less likely to feel tender or swollen. 

Keep a journal of any changes you notice.

Inflammatory Breast Cancer 

Inflammatory breast cancer is a type of cancer that makes up about 1% to 5% of all breast cancer cases. It is rare form of invasive ductal carcinoma and is more aggressive than other types of breast cancer.

Inflammatory breast cancer causes changes to the skin on the breasts because the cancer cells block the lymph vessels and lead to inflammation.

Symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer include:

  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Warmth 
  • Itching
  • Pain 
  • Skin thickening 
  • Nipple pulling inward 
  • A feeling of heaviness in the breast 
  • Pitting or skin with the appearance of orange peel

Clearing Up Breast Acne

Breast acne can be a frustrating health issue. Fortunately, it is treatable and even preventable. Treatment usually depends on your type of acne, how long you have had it, and any past treatments you have tried.

In addition to washing your face twice daily with warm water and a gentle cleanser, you may want to consider the following treatment options for mild to moderate breast acne:

  • Benzoyl peroxide: Reduces the amount of oil made by the glands
  • Resorcinol: Breaks down whiteheads and blackheads
  • Salicylic acid: Breaks down whiteheads and blackheads

Treatment options for severe acne include: 

Good Skin Hygiene

Daily skin care practices that can improve and prevent acne include: 

  • Wash your face twice daily.
  • Don’t pick or squeeze the pimples .
  • Wear sunscreen every day.
  • Use skin and hair products that are noncomedogenic (intended to not clog pores).
  • Wash your bras and shirts in a gentle detergent.

Do not pop, squeeze, or pick your breast pimples. This can cause scarring and raise the risk of infection.

Not a Pimple or Breast Cancer, Then What?

Noticing skin redness or other symptoms on your breasts may not be related to cancer or acne. Other breast conditions that can cause skin changes include: 

  • Adenosis: Causes enlarged breast lobules
  • Breast duct ectasia: Occurs when one or more breast ducts widen and thicken
  • Breast cysts: Small pockets of tissue that are usually filled with fluid
  • Eczema: Causes an itchy, scaly rash
  • Fibroadenoma: Benign breast tumors that feel hard, round, and painless
  • Fibrocystic breasts: Leads to breast swelling, cysts, discomfort, itching, and sensitive nipples
  • Lipoma: A benign, painless tumor made up of fat cells
  • Mastitis: May occur with breastfeeding when the milk duct becomes blocked or infected

When to See a Healthcare Provider

Any time you experience a new sore or skin change that is not improving, it’s best to have it examined by a healthcare provider. Reach out if you notice any of the following symptoms:

  • New lump in the breast or underarm 
  • Change in the size or shape of the breast
  • New nipple discharge 
  • Skin puckering or dimpling 
  • Sore that does not heal 
  • Skin rash that is scaly or crusted over 
  • Nipple pulling inward 


There are several possible causes of skin changes on the breasts. Breast cancer may cause skin symptoms, including redness, inflammation, thickening, dimpling, and irritation. Breast acne looks like small red bumps, including whiteheads, blackheads, papules, and pustules. Breast acne generally improves, while breast cancer symptoms worsen over time. See a healthcare provider if you have experienced recent changes to your breasts. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why does breast acne happen?

    Breast acne happens when the skin’s oil glands produce too much sebum, leading to clogged pores. 

  • When do breast pimples clear up?

    The time it takes for breast pimples to clear up depends on several factors. If a healthcare provider has prescribed treatment, it may take four to six weeks to start seeing results.

  • What’s the difference between a breast boil and pimple?

    A pimple is a small red bump on the skin caused by a clogged pore. A boil is a swollen, red bump on the skin caused by a bacterial infection.

13 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What are the symptoms of breast cancer?.

  2. Signs and symptoms of breast cancer.

  3. MD Anderson Cancer Center. What does breast cancer look like?.

  4. Office on Women’s Health. Acne.

  5. American Academy of Dermatology. Acne.

  6. Breast self-exam: How to check for breast lumps and changes.

  7. American Cancer Society. Inflammatory breast cancer.

  8. American Academy of Dermatology. Acne: Diagnosis and treatment.

  9. American Academy of Dermatology. How to treat deep, painful pimples.

  10. National Cancer Institute. Understanding breast changes and conditions: A health guide.

  11. Eczema of the nipple.

  12. National Health Service (NHS). Breast cancer in women.

  13. American Academy of Dermatology. 9 things to try when acne won’t clear.

By Carrie Madormo, RN, MPH
Carrie Madormo, RN, MPH, is a health writer with over a decade of experience working as a registered nurse. She has practiced in a variety of settings including pediatrics, oncology, chronic pain, and public health.