Causes of Itchy Breasts

Though this symptom can be a sign of cancer, more often it is not

Itchy breasts are not uncommon and are usually a symptom of noncancerous conditions like dry skin or mastitis. However, it is important to also be aware of the more serious causes, including inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) and Paget's disease—two rare forms of breast cancer.

Knowing all the symptoms can be helpful. And even if your itchy breasts are not caused by cancer, you should still get an accurate diagnosis and treatment to relieve your symptoms.

Read on to find out different causes of itchy breasts, and how to treat them.

Itchy Breast Causes
Verywell / JR Bee

Noncancerous Causes

While cancer is a possible reason for itchy breasts, it's usually not the cause. There are many possibilities your healthcare provider may consider first. Itchy breasts can be a sign of a health problem, can result in persistent discomfort, and can be effectively treated.

Mastitis

Mastitis is a breast infection that most commonly affects people who are breastfeeding, but people with breasts who are not nursing can develop it as well. It may cause a fever, breast pain, redness, warmth, and itching. You may also have a generalized feeling of being sick if you have mastitis.

It is treated with antibiotics, and if your symptoms do not begin to improve within a week, further tests may be done to look for a different cause.

Dry Skin

Dry skin is very common and can occur if you are dehydrated or as a result of cold weather. You may also just be prone to dry skin. Usually, when dry skin causes itchy breasts, the skin in several areas of the body is dry or itchy.

Dermatitis

Dermatitis is a rash due to inflammation of the skin. It can be triggered by an allergic reaction to something that your skin has been exposed to, or it may occur without a trigger. Common culprits include new clothes, detergents, perfumes, lotions, and shampoos.

You may be able to prevent dermatitis by using products made for sensitive skin, which usually do not contain irritants such as perfume or dye. Also, be aware that, although it's not common, the nickel in underwire bras can cause an allergic reaction for some women.

Atopic dermatitis, which is the most common type of eczema, is a skin condition that usually occurs without a trigger. People with asthma or hay fever may also have atopic dermatitis.

Yeast Infection

The skin underneath and on the sides of the breasts can become moist, allowing an overgrowth of yeast that can cause itching.

You might find relief with over-the-counter (OTC) antifungal creams, or your healthcare provider can prescribe a prescription-strength antifungal medication.

To prevent yeast growth under the breasts, it helps to wear bras that are made of a breathable fabric, like cotton. Wearing a comfortable and supportive bra, even during sleep, can prevent skinfolds from trapping sweat and moisture.

After showering, make sure that the area under your breasts is completely dry before putting on a bra. If you work out, be sure to select an athletic bra that's made of fabric that keeps sweat and moisture away from the skin, and change promptly after your session.

Psoriasis

Psoriasis is a skin condition that causes flaky scales on the skin. It can occur anywhere on the body, including the breasts, However, the breasts are not the most common location of the psoriasis patches. Psoriasis can be treated with phototherapy (light therapy) or topical medications.

Heat Rash

A heat rash can result from extreme heat exposure, very heavy or tight clothes, and sweating. Some people develop a heat rash that affects the whole body, and it may resolve on its own, or it can be treated with drying powders.

Hormonal Changes

Hormonal changes that increase the size of the breasts can cause painful or itchy breasts. This includes conditions such as puberty, pregnancy, breastfeeding, or weaning. Generally, this problem lasts for several days to several weeks. It usually is not accompanied by a rash or discoloration of the breasts.

Postsurgical Reaction

If you have had recent breast surgery, itching can be a normal part of the healing process. Also, because it stretches the skin to accommodate implants, breast augmentation surgery can cause itchiness.

Most people find that the itching goes away within a few months after surgery. If itchiness is persistent and intolerable, you should consult your surgeon or your primary care provider. 

Itchy Breasts and Breast Cancer

Lumps aren't the only potential symptom of breast cancer. Itchiness, as well as other skin changes, can signal two rare types of breast cancer: inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) and Paget's disease.

IBC accounts for 2% to 4% of breast cancer cases in the United States. It spreads rapidly and often isn't recognized until it reaches an advanced stage.

Additional signs and symptoms of IBC include:

  • Reddening of the skin
  • Dimpling or pitting of the skin
  • Breast pain
  • Swelling, thickening, or sudden growth not related to puberty or weight gain
  • One breast looking larger than the other because of swelling
  • One breast feeling harder than the other
  • One breast feeling warmer and heavier than the other
  • Enlarged lymph nodes under the arm

The symptoms of Paget's disease, which is responsible for 1% to 4% of breast cancer cases, are easily confused with eczema or other causes of skin irritation. Paget's disease symptoms include:

  • Red, thick, or crusted lesion on the nipple that resembles eczema
  • Pain and/or tingling in the nipple or areola
  • Nipple changes or deformities, such as retraction or inversion
  • Yellow or bloody discharge from nipples

If you develop breast itching that lasts longer than a few weeks and is accompanied by any symptoms of IBC or Paget's disease, make an appointment to see your healthcare provider as soon as possible.

Summary

Itchy breasts can occur for various reasons and rarely indicate breast cancer. Mastitis, hormonal changes, yeast infections, dermatitis, and nursing can all cause itchy breasts. It's helpful to be aware of these noncancerous causes as well as the cancerous ones that can make breasts itch. This includes IBC and Paget's disease.

Taking care of your breasts is important. Talk with your healthcare provider about changes in your breasts or the skin around them to get fast relief.

A Word From Verywell

Fortunately, itching is rarely a sign of breast cancer. However, having itchy breasts, even if due to a harmless cause, is a symptom that you should be aware of and not overlook. Paying attention to your breasts, such as with breast self-exams, annual gynecologic visits, and regular mammograms, can keep you up-to-date on any changes in your breasts so you can seek a prompt diagnosis and treatment if something is not right.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why do pregnant women get itchy breasts?

    Pregnancy-induced eczema is the most common reason for itchiness of the breasts and other body parts during pregnancy. Up to 80% of women who experience eczema while expecting had no symptoms before becoming pregnant. You should be able to treat the itching with emollient-rich moisturizers.

  • Why are my nipples itchy after nursing?

    Itching or pain often occurs in the first weeks of nursing as your body gets used to the baby’s sucking and the milk leakage. If these symptoms return later, it may be a sign of thrush, a yeast infection that occurs on your nipples. Your baby may also show signs of thrush, which can appear as white patches in the mouth.

6 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.
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  2. National Institute of Health. Eczema (Atopic Dermatitis).

  3. National Institutes of Health. Psoriasis Types.

  4. Lim B, Woodward W, Wang X, Reuben JM, Ueno NT. Inflammatory breast cancer biology: the tumor microenvironment is key. Nature Reviews Cancer. 2018;18:485-499. doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41568-018-0010-y

  5. Wong G, Drost L, Yee C, et al. Are we properly diagnosing and treating Paget's disease of the breast? A case series. Journal of Pain Management. 2019;12(2):169-172.

  6. Weatherhead S, Robson SC, Reynolds NJ. Eczema in pregnancy. BMJ. 2007;335(7611):152-154. doi: 10.1136%2Fbmj.39227.671227.AE

Additional Reading
Originally written by Lisa Fayed