Having itchy breasts is very rarely a sign of cancer – here's what to look for
Ever been in bed when you’ve noticed an itch on your breast you just can’t get rid of?
Or maybe you’re at work when your boob feels urgently itchy, and you have to go to the bathroom to adjust your bra and give yourself a good scratch in the process.
Having especially itchy boobs is common and totally normal. An itch on the breasts usually happens for the exact same reason as an itch in any other area – a stimulation of nerve endings.
But at some point in the world of urban mythology, someone started spreading the rumour that having mildly itchy boobs means you obviously have breast cancer. Cue everyone with the tiniest sensation in their chest area having a massive worry meltdown.
Dr Clare Morrison, GP and medical advisor at Medexpress, tells Metro.co.uk that itchy boobs are rarely anything to panic about.
It’s true that itching in the breast can be a sign of breast cancer – inflammatory breast cancer, specifically, which can cause redness, inflammation, pain, and swelling – but this is pretty rare. There are other causes of itching that are far more likely.
‘Itchy boobs are far more likely to have a non-threatening explanation,’ Dr Clare tells us.
‘Itchy boobs occur when there is irritation of the skin. This may be due to swelling or inflammation of the breasts, such as in pregnancy, premenstrual changes, or hormone medication, including contraceptives.
‘It may also be due to skin complaints such as dermatitis, dry skin, sunburn, or allergies.
‘Like the rest of the body, the skin of the breasts is subject to any skin disorder, such as dryness, eczema (also known as dermatitis), psoriasis, allergies, insect bites and infections.
‘Itchiness of the exposed parts of the breasts and upper chest can be caused by sunburn, and sun allergy.’
Alongside skin conditions, having itchy breasts can be a result of chafing due to activity (going running with a badly fitting sports bra might cause your boobs to jump around quite a bit) or a bra made from synthetic materials that aggravate the skin.
Dr Clare adds: ‘Itchiness between the breasts is commonly caused by excessive heat and sweating. This may lead to sweat rash, pimples, and yeast infections.
‘It’s important to wear a bra that fits properly and feels comfortable.’
‘Underneath the breasts, the trapped moisture encourages skin infections, which can be bacterial or fungal. An itchy rash occurring between skin folds like this, is known as intertrigo.’
So if you’ve got itchy breasts, what next?
Your first port of call is to account for any of the obvious reasons we’ve just mentioned before you ring the doctor.
Is your bra uncomfortable and poorly fitting? Have you just done a sweaty workout? Do you have dry, irritated skin in other areas? Are you breastfeeding?
If none of these things apply, it’s worth keeping track of itching and noting down how often it occurs – as well as pondering if this has been a longterm experience or something that’s a sudden change.
If your itchy boobs come on suddenly, last for a long time, come with other symptoms, and aren’t clearly down to any of the things we mentioned, it’s then time to talk to your doctor so they can give you a proper checkup.
‘If the itch persists through different stages of the menstrual cycle, and doesn’t respond to simple measures, do think about the possibility of something more serious, such as breast cancer,’ says Dr Clare.
‘The concern is greater if only one side is affected, if the problem has come on out of the blue for the first time ever, or if there are risk factors such as a family history of breast cancer.’
‘Go to the doctor if the itch is accompanied by more worrying symptoms such as a lump, dimpling of the skin, nipple inversion, or pain.
‘Also seek medical attention if the itch doesn’t respond to simple treatment.
‘Occasionally an itchy breast can be a feature of inflammatory breast cancer. This is a serious, aggressive cancer that has spread from the underlining breast tissue to the skin. Tumours that do this, have a poorer prognosis than other types of breast cancer.
‘If you notice any persistent changes to the breast skin, it’s important to get them checked out by your GP.’
Pagets disease of the breast – which looks like eczema of the nipple but is in fact breast cancer – is extremely rare.
And again, just because your itchy breasts don’t have an obvious cause, that doesn’t automatically mean you have cancer.
You could also have an infection, such as thrush, which can cause similar sensations, or be experiencing a hormonal change.
If your doctor has given you the all-clear and your itchy boobs are more annoying than worrying, there are some simple things you can to do reduce the need to scratch.
The key, of course, is avoiding whatever is causing the problem, whether that’s cheap bras, strong perfumes, or sunburn.
Make sure to wear a well-fitting bra, use moisturiser, and chat to a GP or dermatologist if you’re struggling with skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasis.
And finally, well done for being aware of the sensations of your boobs. Combine that with regular checks and you’re doing great.
How to check your breasts:
Check your breasts regularly and get to know what’s normal for you.
If you notice any changes, talk to your doctor.
To check your breasts, look at them and feel each breast and armpit and up to your collarbone. It can be easier if you do this in the shower or bath, by running a soapy hand over each breast and up under each armpit.
You want a firm, smooth touch with the first few finger pads of your hands, keeping fingers flat and together and moving in a circular motion.
Signs of breast cancer to watch out for
Women are advised to start checking their breasts in their 20s. A lump definitely isn’t the only thing to watch out for, but if you don’t know what else you need to be aware of, here’s a very simple guide:
Change in breast size or shape
Boobs are wonderful things that come in all shapes and sizes. But if yours starts to change outside your menstrual window or pregnancy, then it might be a warning sign. Keep checking them so you know what they look like regularly and are able to chart any changes.
An inverted nipple
Some people are born with inverted nipples…but if yours suddenly starts to go inwards or changes shape in any way, it might be worth having checked out.
Redness, rashes or skin sores
We all get rashes from time to time but if you develop one anywhere on the boob or around the nipple that won’t go away, visit your GP.
If liquid comes out of your nipple without squeezing it, get it checked.
A dent of any size isn’t normal.
Swelling under the armpit or collarbone
Often you can get swelling under the armpit around your period but if it doesn’t go away when your period does, get it checked.
Change in skin texture
If the skin around your nipples become dimply or start to resemble orange peel, get it checked out.
Boobs can feel sore but they shouldn’t ache all the time.
A growing vein
Normally, you can’t see veins on your breasts so if one does become apparent and seems to be growing, head to you GP as it might be a sign of a tumour blocking a blood vessel.
It’s the most common sign but not the only one. If you can feel a lump on the inside (it doesn’t have to be visible), get it checked out. Make sure you…or your partner (as good a reason as any) regularly feel your boobs for any lumps.
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