ASK THE DOCTOR... “Are nipple changes a concern?”
I have noticed changes to one of my nipples. It is flaky, scaly, red and itchy. Sometimes there is tingling and burning and it is sensitive. Could this be anything to worry about?
While it is possible flaky, scaly, itchy or sensitive skin on the nipple could be caused by eczema or dermatitis, it can also be a condition called Paget’s disease of the nipple, a type of breast cancer that forms around the nipple.
It is relatively rare, accounting for less than five per cent of all breast cancers, and is mostly found in women over 50. However, women have been diagnosed in their 20s.
Early symptoms include redness, scaling, flaking and irritation. More advanced
symptoms include tingling, itching, sensitivity, burning and pain. There may be a discharge or bleeding and the nipple may become hard, lumpy, flattened, indrawn or inverted. In some cases there may also be a breast lump and underlying breast cancer.
If you notice any changes to one or both nipples, see your doctor as soon as possible. It may not be anything serious, but if your doctor suspects Paget’s disease, a biopsy can be performed, where a small sample of the skin tissue and any discharge is examined.
You may also need a mammogram and ultrasound to check for underlying cancer.
Treatment of Paget’s disease of the nipple varies depending on how advanced, invasive or aggressive the cancer is. Your doctor will talk to you about your options. For very early cancer it may be possible to remove just the nipple and affected area of breast followed by radiation therapy. In other cases the whole breast and lymph nodes may need to be removed.
As with any cancer, the sooner you get yourself checked out, the more treatment options you may have and the more likely they are to be successful.
Don’t ignore any health concerns, especially breast or nipple changes.
Read Dr Cindy Pan’s article on three other nipple conditions at bodyandsoul.com.au