October is almost here, and with it comes the annual observance of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. One of the most frequently discussed aspects of breast cancer awareness and prevention is the breast self exam, during which you examine your own breasts for common signs and symptoms of cancer such as an abnormal bump or lump. But did you know that the skin on your breasts can also show indications of potential cancer?
Educating patients about early detection measures is a crucial step toward improving outcomes for those who are diagnosed. At RI Skin Doc and Rejuvaderm, we take our responsibility as dermatologists seriously when it comes to all forms of cancer, including breast cancer. Here are four skin-related signs to look out for when completing your breast self exam:
1. Peau D’Orange
“Peau d’orange,” which means “skin of an orange” in French, refers to a condition of the skin in which fluid accumulates in your breast as a result of your lymphatic vessels becoming blocked. The name comes from its appearance on your skin, which will be swollen, raised, dimpled and pitted, resembling an orange peel. While peau d’orange isn’t always an indicator of cancer, fluid buildup in your breast can certainly be the result of inflammatory cancer cells blocking your lymphatic vessels. This symptom is fairly difficult to miss -- if you see anything resembling it on your breast, see a doctor as soon as you can.
2. Scaly, Flaky Skin
While a change in skin texture could be a number of dermatological conditions, such as eczema or another type of dermatitis, the sudden appearance of scaly, dry skin that appears sunburned around your nipple could be an indicator of breast cancer. Certain types of breast cancer, including Paget’s disease, can result in your skin cells morphing and becoming inflamed. Breast cancer can cause changes and inflammation in skin cells that can lead to texture changes. You may also begin to feel itchy in these spots of abnormal texture. Even though there are many possible diagnoses for your textural changes that are likely benign, it’s important to have your breasts examined by your doctor just in case.
3. Unusual Redness
Inflammatory breast cancer can also cause red spots to appear on your breast. Like a difference in skin texture, redness of the skin also has a multitude of other causes, such as a perfectly benign rash. However, size matters when it comes to signs of cancer: if redness has spread over a significant portion (at least two thirds) of your breast, it’s absolutely time to see your doctor. Inflammatory breast cancer is fairly rare, making up 2-4% of all breast cancer cases diagnosed in the United States -- unfortunately, it also contributes to 7-10% of all deaths reported as a result of breast cancer.
4. Thickened Skin
Finally, if you notice that the skin on your breast has become unusually thick, this could also be a red flag for inflammatory breast cancer. This thickening of the breast tissue may be caused by an infection, but it’s also an indicator of mutated, cancerous skin cells. Thickened skin due to cancer can actually be detected on a mammogram -- this is just one reason why it’s extremely important to visit your gynecologist for your regularly scheduled mammograms.
While many of these skin changes can be the result of completely benign dermatological conditions, it’s vital to practice caution and have them examined by a doctor as soon as you become aware of them. Schedule an appointment with our specialists to gain the peace of mind you deserve, during Breast Cancer Awareness Month and all throughout the year.
With ongoing safety precautions in place, RI Skin Doc and Rejuvaderm MediSpa are OPEN for in-person visits by appointment only. If you have any questions about our COVID-19 response, visit our website.