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    Inflammatory Breast Cancer: How to Spot It and What to Do About It

    Updated 28 September 2021 |
    Published 29 September 2021
    Fact Checked
    Reviewed by Dr. Carlie Thompson, Breast surgical oncologist and assistant professor of surgery, University of California, California, US
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    Many things can cause skin changes on the breasts, and it’s normally no big deal. Rarely, it could signal a more serious condition called inflammatory breast cancer (IBC). Keep reading to learn about common causes of breast skin changes; diagnosis and treatment for IBC; what to watch out for; and how to protect your health.

    What can skin changes on the breast mean?

    It can be scary to spot a change in your breasts, but if you notice that the skin of your breast is red, swollen, or warm, there’s usually no reason to worry. Breast skin can be quite sensitive, so there are lots of common conditions and causes for breast skin changes, and the vast majority are not too much of a concern. 

    Some of the most common causes include: 

    • Sensitivity to cosmetics or detergents — A rash that pops up when you try a new type of body lotion, soap, or laundry detergent could be a mild allergic reaction, which should clear up quickly when you stop using the product that’s causing it. 
    • Common skin conditions — Eczema and psoriasis can cause a rash, and lots of things can trigger a flare-up, including certain foods, medications, fabrics, chemicals, or simply stress. 
    • Specific fabrics and fibers — Many people have skin sensitivity to wool and synthetic fibers. For them, wearing clothes made of absorbent fibers, like cotton, can improve the problem. Sleeping in a bra has also been shown to have negative health impacts, including skin irritation and other issues, so your breasts will thank you for letting them breathe at night! 
    • Sweat rash — Sweat and rubbing can cause a sweat rash. Sweat rash tends to be worse where skin is chafing, making people with larger breasts more prone to developing sweat rash in the creases under their breasts. It usually clears up quite quickly, and showering soon after working out can help.  
    • Yeast infection — A microscopic fungus called Candida albicans lives on the skin. It’s totally normal, but when there’s too much of it, it can cause a yeast infection. It flourishes in warm, moist areas like the armpits, groin, and creases under the breasts, and it can cause an itchy rash. Taking antibiotics or having diabetes makes you more prone to yeast infections. If the skin under the breast is red, glossy, bumpy, and itchy, a yeast infection could be the culprit. For relief, keep these areas clean and dry. Over-the-counter creams designed specifically for yeast infections usually clear them up quickly.  
    • Bacterial infection — Sore, cracked skin can harbor bacteria that can lead to infection of the breast skin or milk ducts (mastitis). Make sure to wash your bras frequently and to keep the skin clean and dry.  Sometimes, an infection needs to be treated by a health care provider.

    Although most of the causes of a rash on the breast aren’t much to worry about, it’s important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of more serious conditions.

    What is inflammatory breast cancer?

    Inflammatory breast cancer is an aggressive form of breast cancer that usually appears as skin inflammation and general changes in the breast, rather than as a defined lump. IBC is rather rare and only accounts for around one to five percent of diagnosed breast cancers. Educational campaigns about spotting breast cancer early usually focus on the more common forms of breast cancer, which cause lumps and changes in breast tissue that can be felt. But learning about other changes that could signal cancer can help you stay healthy.

    Who is at risk?

    IBC is more common i