The breast contains highly specialized glandular tissue that supports lactation and is surrounded by fat cells, blood vessels, nerves, lymph nodes and other connective tissues--all covered by skin containing sweat glands and hair follicles. Women may develop itching skin on, around or under the breast, leading to the development of a rash, flaky skin and irritation. Itchy breasts may present a temporary discomfort or may indicate the presence of a serious underlying problem.
Allergies and Irritation
A common cause of breast itching is an allergy or irritation of the skin overlying the breast. Exposure to chemicals, such as residue from laundry detergents, can activate the immune system in certain individuals. This may lead to redness, itching and the formation of a rash. Patients who develop an unexplained rash should assess exposure to new detergents, skin products or soaps and determine if a product is the source of the irritation. To relieve breast itching in the meantime, Medline Plus recommends moisturizing the skin, soaking in a bath or applying a hydrocortisone cream to relieve inflammation. If the itching cannot be explained by exposure to chemicals or allergens, or it persists for a long period of time, patients should seek medical attention to determine the underlying cause.
Itching may indicate the presence of a breast infection, called mastitis. Breast infections are particularly common in women who are breastfeeding, as nursing can lead to a drying and cracking of skin around the nipple, allowing bacteria and viruses to enter into the breast and cause an infection. Medline Plus indicates that women with a breast infection typically develop redness, swelling and pain in the affected breast, in addition to itching. Patients with a breast infection may also suffer from fever and fatigue. A breast infection can be diagnosed with culture testing and treated with antibiotics and pain medication.
Itching breasts may indicate the presence of certain forms of breast cancer. Inflammatory breast cancer--a relatively rare form of cancer--can lead to infection-like symptoms, including itching. Patients with inflammatory breast cancer experience an enlargement of the affected breast as the breast becomes engorged with excess lymphatic fluid. The enlarged breast becomes red, swollen and painful, with flaky and itchy skin. The symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer develop quickly, with the affected breast swelling a full cup size in a matter of days, according to the Inflammatory Breast Cancer Research Foundation. Patients experiencing breast itchiness as well as other symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer must seek immediate medical attention, as early diagnosis of the disease increases the effectiveness of cancer treatment.