Tue | Aug 22, 2017

Skin signs of Breast Cancer

Published:Wednesday | October 28, 2015 | 10:00 AM

It's that time of the year again when we commemorate Breast Cancer Awareness month. While most breast cancers are discovered as a lump by the individual, there are other changes in the skin which can also be signs of breast cancer.

Here are some reminders of the skin changes which may be associated with breast cancer.

1. A firm thickening of the skin may occur as a result of breast cancer. This thickening may even be seen in the other breast that does not have the actual tumour. Remember that there are also other benign ('non-cancerous') causes of thickening of the skin of the breast as well.

2. Some forms of breast cancer may cause the skin's texture to resemble an orange peel as a result of swelling.

3. Changes in the skin of the nipple and areola (the dark area surrounding the nipple) can be associated with cancer in that breast. Paget's disease of the breast is a rare form of cancer, which involves the nipple, areola and an underlying intraduct or invasive breast cancer.

4. Paget's disease and other types of breast cancers may cause tingling, itching, burning, redness, flaking, skin thinning, ulceration, flattening or sinking (inversion) of the nipple and a bloody or yellowish nipple discharge. One or more lumps may also be detected in that breast.

5. It should be emphasised that most cases of rashes of the breast are not associated with cancer, but are more commonly caused by benign conditions like eczema. In conditions like eczema, it is more common for the rash to affect both nipples, though only one side can sometimes be involved.

6. There are several types of rashes that occur on different body areas that may be associated with different types of cancers inside the body, including breast cancer.

7. In advanced cases of breast cancer, the tumour may be fixed to the skin over it.

8. There may also be lumps or ulcers on the skin in late stages of breast cancer. Lumps may also be felt in the underarms in advanced cases. Remember that there are lots of other skin conditions that are much more common than breast cancer which may also cause lumps in your underarms, so don't panic if you have lumps in this area.

9. The affected breast may also appear larger than the unaffected breast.

10. In summary, there are changes in the skin that may be a clue to breast cancer, so these should not be ignored. However, breast cancer is much more likely to present as a breast lump with no obvious changes in the skin initially. Individuals should conduct regular self-examinations, get mammograms or other tests as advised by a doctor, and visit a doctor if any changes that cause concern are noticed.

Remember that breast cancer can be treatable, especially when detected early. So, if in doubt, check it out!

- Dr Arusha Campbell-Chambers is a dermatologist and founder of Dermatology Solutions Skin Clinics & Medi-Spas; email: yourhealth@gleanerjm.com