How to Spot and Treat a Breast Cancer Rash

A skin rash on your breast could be a sign of an aggressive form of breast cancer known as inflammatory breast cancer (IBC). Breasts will often appear swollen and red, with symptoms progressing rapidly over weeks or months. IBC can cause a rapid increase in size, and breasts may feel heavy, burning, or tender. There often isn’t a lump, making IBC challenging to diagnose.

Infections, allergies, and shingles may also cause a breast rash. A healthcare professional should examine any unexplained rashes on the breast to properly diagnose and treat the cause.

Learn about breast cancer rashes, including causes, risk factors, when to see your healthcare provider, and more.

Woman with a breast rash, in pain, wondering if it's a breast cancer rash

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What Does a Breast Cancer Rash Look Like?

Rashes are not a common symptom of cancer. A breast cancer rash is a sign of inflammatory breast cancer or Paget’s disease of the breast, both of which are rare conditions and difficult to diagnose due to the absence of a lump

Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC)

IBC is a rare, aggressive cancer typically affecting women with dense breast tissue. Symptoms may include:

  • A rash appearing swollen and red
  • Pink, reddish-purple, or bruised skin 
  • Ridges on the skin (like the skin of an orange)
  • A rapid increase in breast size and/or breast rash
  • Breasts feeling heavy, burning, or tender

Paget’s Disease

A disease of the nipple, this rare condition is associated with breast cancer. Symptoms may be mistaken for dermatitis or eczema and include:

Other Causes of a Breast Rash

Various other conditions can cause a breast rash unrelated to breast cancer.


Infections can be caused by intertrigo, an inflammatory rash occurring along skin folds like the breast. Moisture, friction, and lack of ventilation can cause inflammation. Friction can cause the skin to break down and become susceptible to fungal or bacterial infections. Symptoms may include:

  • Red, scaly skin
  • Itchiness, stinging, or burning sensations 


Mastitis, or inflammation of the breast, is often due to an infection. It commonly affects breastfeeding women when a milk duct becomes blocked. It can also affect women who aren’t breastfeeding as well as men. Symptoms include:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Warmth
  • Redness


An allergic reaction is typically in response to pollen, food, or medicine but may also occur in response to other triggers. Exposure to an allergen can cause hives that may affect the chest and breasts. Symptoms include raised, red bumps or welts and itchy skin.


Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is a condition caused by the chickenpox virus. The virus remains inactive in the body and can reactivate later in life. Shingles cause a rash that may affect the chest and breast area. Symptoms of shingles include:

  • Painful, itchy, or tingling skin
  • Rash with blisters
  • Pain
  • Fever or chills
  • Headache
  • Upset stomach

Additional Cancer Symptoms

Breast cancer symptoms vary by the individual; some people are asymptomatic and present few or no symptoms initially. Symptoms of breast cancer may include:

  • New lump in the breast or armpit 
  • Thickening or swelling in or near the breast or armpit 
  • Changes in breast size or shape 
  • Irritation, dimpling, or puckering of the skin 
  • Nipple discharge other than breast milk, including blood 
  • Scaly, flaky, red, or swollen skin in the nipple or breast area 
  • Pain in the nipple area or anywhere on the breast
  • A pulling in of the nipple

These symptoms can also be signs of other conditions, so speaking to your healthcare provider is the best way to determine their causes. 

Risk Factors

Many factors may contribute to the risk of developing cancer, including genetics, lifestyle, and environmental factors. Risk factors may include:

  • Genetic predisposition (family history of breast or ovarian cancer) 
  • Genetic mutations (changes), including changes in BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes
  • Age
  • History of breast cancer or non-cancerous breast disease  
  • Dense breast tissue (breasts that have more connective tissue than fatty tissue) 
  • Reproductive history that includes increased exposure to estrogen, such as the early onset of menstruation, first pregnancy after 30, not breastfeeding, not having a full-term pregnancy, or later menopause 
  • History of radiation therapy to the chest or breast 
  • Not being physically active
  • Having excess weight or obesity after menopause
  • Using hormone therapy to treat menopause symptoms 
  • Drinking alcohol

Breast Cancer Screening

Breast cancer screening refers to checking a woman’s breast for cancer before there are any signs or symptoms. The recommendation is that women ages 50–74 get a mammogram every two years. Women ages 40–49 should talk to their healthcare provider about when to start and how often to get screened.

Awareness of how your breasts look and feel can help you catch any symptoms or changes. If you notice any changes during a breast self-exam, notify your healthcare provider.

When to See Your Healthcare Provider

A person experiencing changes or abnormal symptoms affecting the breast should see their healthcare provider. A healthcare provider may run tests to diagnose or rule out breast cancer, including a physical and breast exam.

What Is a Breast Exam?

A breast exam includes checking for lumps and abnormalities in the breast and armpits. A complete exam may consist of:


A breast rash can indicate inflammatory breast cancer (IBC), a rare, aggressive cancer that often goes undetected. Paget's breast disease is another rare cancer-related condition that can cause a rash. Other conditions unrelated to breast cancer may cause a breast rash, including infection, allergic reaction, or shingles.

If you have a breast rash, speak with your healthcare provider so they can run diagnostic tests to determine the cause and treat the underlying condition. 

A Word From Verywell

The sudden onset of a breast rash can be alarming. A rash may not necessarily indicate breast cancer, but it's crucial to see a healthcare provider who can determine the cause. Self-examination and noticing breast changes can play a critical role in the timely detection of breast cancer.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is a breast cancer rash itchy?

    Breast cancer rash due to inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) or Paget’s disease can cause itchiness.

  • What is usually the first sign of breast cancer?

    Symptoms may vary by the individual, and some may not have any symptoms. Warning signs may include a lump, thickening or swelling of the skin, irritation, discharge, changes in breast size or shape, and pain in the nipple, breast, or underarm area.

8 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. National Cancer Institute. Inflammatory breast cancer.

  2. National Cancer Institute. Paget disease of the breast.

  3. Kalra MG, Higgins KE, Kinney BS. Intertrigo and secondary skin infections. aafp. 2014;89(7):569-573.

  4. National Library of Medicine. Mastitis.

  5. Mount Sinai Health System. Hives

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Shingles (herpes zoster).

  7. MedlinePlus. Breast cancer.

  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What is breast cancer screening?

By Rebecca Valdez, MS, RDN
Rebecca Valdez is a registered dietitian nutritionist and nutrition communications consultant, passionate about food justice, equity, and sustainability.