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Paget Disease: A New form of Breast Cancer?

Email:

This email warns women about a rare form of breast cancer called Paget (or Paget’s) disease, and tells them to be alert for a rash that appears around the nipple which can be misdiagnosed as a dermatological condition.

Fact:

This email is actually a very plausible description of a case of this rare condition. Paget's disease of the nipple starts in the breast ducts and spreads to the skin of the nipple and then to the areola, the dark circle around the nipple. It's rare, accounting for only about 1% of all cases of breast cancer. The skin of the nipple and areola often appears crusted, scaly, and red, with areas of bleeding or oozing. The woman may notice burning or itching. If no lump can be felt in the breast tissue, and the biopsy shows no invasive cancer, the prognosis is excellent.

It’s cases like this that prompt the American Cancer Society to urge women to know how their breasts normally look and feel to more readily detect any change. If any change occurs, such as development of a lump or swelling in the breast or underarm area, skin irritation or dimpling, nipple pain or retraction (turning inward), redness or scaliness of the nipple or breast skin, or a discharge other than breast milk, you should see a health care provider as soon as possible for evaluation. However, remember that most of the time, these breast changes are not cancer. American Cancer Society Medical Editor Ted Gansler says, “I do not doubt that some cases of Paget's disease might be initially overlooked and attributed to a benign skin condition. Although this is a chain e-mail and "areola" is consistently misspelled as "aureola", most of the medical information is accurate, and I wouldn't call this a rumor.”

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Last Medical Review: 8/26/14
Last Revised: 8/26/14