Skin Changes In Breast Cancer

Skin Changes In Breast Cancer

Dermatologist and Educator. Medical Advisor to health, fitness, beauty and professional magazines websites and news outlets. #stayskinsafe

As a dermatologist, I perform over 20 full body skin examinations daily in my office. I do look for skin cancer and melanoma, but I also look for signs of other disease, including breast skin changes associated with pregnancy, weight fluctuations, hormonal changes and breast cancer. As a physician, it is important to me to educate patients about their overall health and empower them with the knowledge to make informed, healthy decisions.

If you feel a non-tender breast lump that does not go away in a few weeks, or is persistent and unrelated to your menstrual cycle, get it checked. It may or may not be visible through the skin. Monthly self-breast exams are helpful to get to know your breasts and learn what your normal feels like. Try examining them in the shower the week after your period, when breasts are less tender. Soapy hands make it easy to feel for lumps. Be sure to feel under the nipple area and as far out as your armpit, since the breast tissue can grow that far out.

However, it is also important to recognize the specific skin changes that can be seen in breast cancer. In particular, inflammatory breast cancer, a rarer, quick-spreading, aggressive version (up to 5% of breast cancers) may not present as a lump of tumor at all, but rather with specific skin changes caused by invasion, inflammation and blockage of lymph vessels and lymph nodes. These skin changes can include:

  • Unilateral nipple changes, including nipple inversion. Inverted/inward turned nipples can be normal, but if one nipple suddenly inverts, you must get examined.
  • Peau d’orange, the French term used to describe the appearance of skin thickening and puckering that looks like the peel of an orange.
  • A pink/red/purple, possibly bruise-like, non-tender area that usually involves at least ¼ of the breast surface, is not related to physical trauma, and won’t heal.
  • Any new asymmetry of the breasts, such as the outline of a lump, rapid increase in size of one breast or a new asymmetrical positioning of the nipples (don’t point in same direction when you lean forward). The best way for you to check for this at home is to stand in front of a bathroom mirror with your hands on your hips. Look at your breasts and examine for any asymmetric skin or contour or nipple changes. Then, lean forward and let your breasts hang, and look again for changes in skin, contour or nipple appearance and orientation.
  • New Discharge from one nipple can be a sign of ductal disease.
  • A persistent, scaly, eczema-like patch on the areola or nipple can be a sign of Paget’s disease, a type of breast cancer. If it does not resolve after two weeks of moisturizer or topical steroids, get examined by your dermatologist or gynecologist to rule out this type of breast cancer.

The information contained herein is intended to provide broad understanding and knowledge of the topics presented and should not replace consultation with a health care professional.