Causes of Itchy Breasts

Itchy Breasts Can Be the First Symptoms of Breast Cancer

woman scratching itchy breast
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It is common for girls and women to experience itchy breasts once in a while. While itchy breasts are most often due to harmless causes, it is important to be aware of the most serious causes, which are inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) and Paget's disease, two uncommon forms of breast cancer.

Itchy breasts caused by less worrisome conditions, though often harmless, deserve attention. They may require preventative approaches or medical treatments so that you can reduce the itchy sensation and prevent complications. There are some differences between the symptoms of breast cancer and the symptoms of the more common causes of itchy breasts.

Benign (Harmless) Causes of Itchy Breasts

There are many causes of itchy breasts, and most of the time it is not caused by cancer. That said, itchy breasts can be a sign of a health problem, can result in persistent discomfort, and can be effectively treated.

Some of the most common causes of itchy breasts include:

Mastitis

Mastitis is a breast infection that most commonly affects women who are breastfeeding, but women 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.

Mastitis: How to Recognize, Treat, and Prevent a Breast Infection

Dry Skin

Dry skin is very common and can occur if you are dehydrated, as a result of cold weather, or if you just have a tendency to have dry skin. Usually, when dry skin causes itchy breasts, the skin in several regions of the body is dry or itchy.

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. Although it's not common, the nickel in the underwire of bras can cause an allergic reaction for some women.

Atopic dermatitis, which is also known as eczema, is a type of dermatitis that usually occurs without a trigger. It is often associated with asthma or hay fever.

What Does a Dermatitis Rash Look Like?

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 antifungal creams or your doctor 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 skin folds 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. 

Psoriasis

Psoriasis is a skin condition that causes flaking scales on the skin. It can occur anywhere on the body, including the breasts, although the breasts are not the most common location of the skin lesions. Psoriasis can be treated with phototherapy or topical medications.

Heat Rash

A heat rash can occur as the result of extreme heat exposure, very heavy or tight clothes, and sweating. Some people can 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 cause breasts to become larger, such as puberty, pregnancy, breastfeeding, and weaning, can all cause painful or itchy breasts. Generally, this problem lasts for several days or several weeks, and should not be associated with a rash or discoloration of the breasts.

Post-Surgical Reaction

If you have had recent breast surgery, itching can be a normal part of your recovery. Breast augmentation surgery, especially, can cause itchiness. The skin of the breast stretches to accommodate the implant and the result can be itchy breasts.

Most women 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 doctor. 

When Breast Itching May Signal Cancer

While breast cancer is usually associated with breast lumps, many people aren't aware that symptoms such as breast itchiness, pain, swelling, rashes, or reddening of the skin may also be signs of the disease. Even more surprising is that having itchy breasts can be a symptom of more than one type of breast cancer. Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) and Paget's disease are two types of breast cancer in which the earliest symptoms may be breast itching or skin changes.

If your breast itching is accompanied by any other symptoms or persistent for longer than a few weeks, you should see a doctor.

Inflammatory Breast Cancer

(IBC) accounts for around 1 to 5 percent of all breast cancer diagnoses in the United States. IBC can spread rapidly and is often not recognized until it reaches an advanced stage.

The symptoms of IBC include:

  • Reddening of the breast
  • Dimpling or pitting of the breast, resembling an orange peel
  • Breast pain
  • Breast swelling, thickening, or sudden growth of one or both breasts that is not related to puberty or weight gain
  • Breast warmth
  • One breast becoming harder
  • Swelling in an armpit (due to lymph node metastases)

Paget's Disease

Paget's disease of the breast is another uncommon type of breast cancer. In this cancer, the initial signs may easily be confused with eczema or irritation of the breast.

Paget's disease is responsible for 1 to 4 percent of breast cancers, with the average age of diagnosis being 57.

The symptoms of Paget's disease include:

  • A red, thick, or crusted lesion of the nipple that resembles eczema
  • Pain and/or tingling in the nipple or areola
  • Nipple changes, such as a nipple becoming deformed, retracted, or inverted
  • Nipple discharge that is yellow or bloody

Nipple changes, such as inversion, may also be a symptom of the more common forms of breast cancer.

Paget's Disease of the Nipple or Breast

A Word From Verywell

Having itchy breasts, even if due to a harmless cause, is a good reminder to see if you are up to date on early detection strategies such mammograms, and to practice lifestyle measures that may reduce your risk of developing breast cancer in the future, such as quitting smoking.

While itchy breasts certainly do not mean that you have breast cancer, it is important to see your doctor for a proper evaluation. Uncommon types of breast cancer such as inflammatory breast cancer and Paget's disease may have itching as a symptom, though often times there are additional symptoms present as well.

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