If your breasts itch, it typically does not mean that you have cancer. Most often the itch is caused by another condition, such as dry skin.

There is a chance, however, that persistent or intense itching could be a sign of an uncommon type of breast cancer, such as inflammatory breast cancer or Paget’s disease.

Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) is caused by cancer cells blocking lymph vessels in the skin. It’s described by the American Cancer Society as an aggressive cancer that grows and spreads more quickly than other types of breast cancer.

IBC is also different from other types of breast cancer because:

  • often it does not cause a lump in the breast
  • it may not show up in a mammogram
  • it’s diagnosed at a later stage, since the cancer grows quickly and has often spread beyond the breast at the time of diagnosis

Symptoms of IBC may include:

  • a tender, itchy, or painful breast
  • red or purple color in one-third of the breast
  • one breast feeling heavier and warmer than the other
  • breast skin thickening or pitting with the look and feel of the skin of an orange

While these symptoms do not necessarily mean that you have IBC, see your doctor right away if you’re experiencing any of them.

Often mistaken for dermatitis, Paget’s disease affects the nipple and the areola, which is the skin around the nipple.

The majority of people who have Paget’s disease also have underlying ductal breast cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute. The disease predominantly occurs in women over the age of 50.

Paget’s disease is an uncommon condition, accounting for only 1 to 3 percent of all breast cancer cases.

Itching is a typical symptom along with:

  • redness
  • flaky nipple skin
  • breast skin thickening
  • burning or tingling sensations
  • yellow or bloody nipple discharge

Some breast cancer treatments may cause itching, such as:

Itching is also a possible side effect of hormonal therapy, including:

An allergic reaction to a pain medication also can cause itching.

Mastitis is an inflammation of the breast tissue that commonly affects women who are breastfeeding. It may cause itchiness in addition to other symptoms, such as:

Mastitis is often caused by a blocked milk duct or bacteria entering your breast and is typically treated with antibiotics.

Because the symptoms are similar, inflammatory breast cancer can be mistaken for mastitis. If the antibiotics do not help your mastitis within a week, see your doctor. They may recommend a skin biopsy.

According to the American Cancer Society, having mastitis does not increase your risk of developing breast cancer.

If you’re worried that your breast itch is a potential indication of breast cancer, it’s best to speak with your doctor. This is especially important if the itch is intense, painful, or accompanied by other symptoms.

Although a breast cancer diagnosis is a possibility, your doctor might also determine that the itch has a different cause, such as:

Although it’s rare, breast itch could represent distress elsewhere in your body, such as liver disease or kidney disease.

An itchy breast is usually not due to breast cancer. It’s more likely caused by eczema or another skin condition.

That said, itchiness is a symptom of some uncommon types of breast cancer. If the itchiness is not normal for you, see your doctor.

Your doctor can perform tests and make a diagnosis so that you can receive treatment for the underlying cause.