An itchy breast or nipple can seem like an embarrassing problem, but it isn’t uncommon.
“Most of the time, the cause is inflammation or irritation,” says Dr. Angela Mislowsky, a breast surgeon with Tidelands Health Breast Center, our region’s only breast center accredited by the National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers. “Although a search of the Internet might raise concerns about cancer, that’s usually not the case.”
The most common cause of an itchy breast or nipple include:
Atopic dermatitis or eczema
Atopic dermatitis or eczema is an inflammation of the skin, which leads to dry skin, itching and rash. Normal dry skin can also cause the breasts or nipples to itch.
Chemical or material irritation
Artificial fibers, detergents, perfumes, soaps and wool are among the things that may irritate the skin and lead to itching.
An allergic reaction to a medication could also cause your breasts or nipples to itch.
Breasts go through various changes during pregnancy. They enlarge, and the skin stretches, which can cause itching and flaking.
It is fairly common for breastfeeding mothers to experience mastitis, a breast tissue infection. The symptoms include breast tenderness, swelling, redness, pain or burning when breastfeeding. The condition can also result in breast itching.
Treatments for itchy breasts
Depending on the cause of your itchy breasts, a variety of treatment methods may be appropriate, Dr. Mislowsky says.
For dry, flaking or irritated skin, consider using a perfume- and dye-free skin cream to help ease symptoms, she says. Over-the-counter topical corticosteroids such as hydrocortisone can help reduce inflammation.
If the itching is linked to an allergen, eliminate the allergen to help stop the itch.
“If the itching is caused by a dermatitis, most symptoms should resolve with over-the-counter treatments, including adopting a skin-care routine that includes washing your skin with mild soap and lukewarm water,” Dr. Mislowsky says. “If it’s mastitis, it may require requires antibiotics. If so, make sure to take the full treatment course to prevent the infection from coming back.”
When to be concerned about cancer
There are two types of breast cancer that present with itchy breasts and nipples, although both are rare.
Paget’s disease affects the nipple and surrounding skin, and the symptoms mimic atopic dermatitis or eczema, Dr. Mislowsky explains. Paget’s disease might also include a flattened nipple, redness, discharge from the nipple and skin changes, as well as a lump in the breast.
The other type is inflammatory breast cancer, a more aggressive disease, which includes changes to the texture of the breast accompanied by swelling and redness.
Both are treated with a variety of approaches that can include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and hormone therapy, all available at Tidelands Health Cancer Care Network, our region’s most comprehensive provider of cancer care.
Dr. Mislowsky says it’s important to seek medical care if you experience:
- Breast irritation that doesn’t go away after a few days or seems to worsen
- Bloody or brown drainage from your nipple
- A newly inverted nipple
- Skin changes to your breast that do not resolve
- Thickened breast tissue
“Typically, the cause of these symptoms is not breast cancer,” Dr. Mislowsky says. “Even so, it’s important to seek medical care to understand the reason for your symptoms and receive proper treatment.”
Dr. Angela Mislowsky
Breast Surgeon, Tidelands Health Breast Center
Call to Schedule
Dr. Angela Mislowsky is a board-certified, fellowship-trained breast surgeon who practices at Tidelands Health Breast Center.Learn More
New York Medical College
Union Memorial Hospital
The Hospital of The University of Pennsylvania, Breast and Oncology Surgery
- Board Certified, American Board of Surgery
Meet the Expert
Dr. Angela Mislowsky
Call to Schedule
Dr. Angela Mislowsky is a board-certified, fellowship-trained breast surgeon who practices at Tidelands Health Breast Center.