Women's Health

It Was More than a Rash: It was Breast Cancer

It Was More than a Rash: It was Breast Cancer

Usually, a rash is brushed off as a minor irritation or an allergic reaction to medication. It is considered annoying, yet fairly harmless. But now, a mother of two is advising women to think twice if they develop a rash on their breast.

Breast cancer in disguise 

Back in 2015, 46-year old Jennifer Cordts noticed a rash on her left breast that looked like a sunburn. “I went and got a mammogram, and it came back normal. I was told, crazy enough, that my bra was too small,” she said. However, when the rash did not disappear, she decided to look up her symptom on Google. “IBC, or inflammatory breast cancer, was the first thing that popped up. Everybody was asleep, and I was terrified,” recalled Cordts.

She called her gynecologist, who sent her to see a general practitioner. After being recommended to undergo physical therapy for 6 weeks, the pain she was experiencing in her back only heightened. Cordts was then sent to a breast specialist who diagnosed her with mastitis – an infection of the tissue in one or both mammary glands located in the breast. “Having not nursed for over seven years, I was skeptical that this was mastitis, but I trusted the breast specialist. After all, I am not a doctor,” she said.

She was prescribed antibiotics and after ten days of taking them, her situation did not improve. Cordts then went back to the breast specialist and to a breast surgeon in Dallas, Texas. After undergoing a physical examination, a sonogram, a mammogram, and a biopsy, the results revealed her worst fear: stage 4 IBC. “I remember the doctor saying inflammatory breast cancer, and all I could think about was what I had googled because what I had googled said that everybody dies,” she recalled.

A lump is not the only symptom of breast cancer

Inflammatory breast cancer is a very aggressive form of breast cancer. It is rare, making up for 1 to 5% of all breast cancer diagnoses in the United States. Rarely do women who are diagnosed with IBC develop a lump. “In IBC, cancer cells infiltrate the skin and lymph vessels of the breast” said Dr. Marleen Meyers, a medical oncologist at NYU Perlmutter Cancer Center. The result is usually a swollen breast and a rash, where the skin appears discolored and thick like an orange peel.

A rash is an overlooked symptom of breast cancer. In IBC, it appears because the cancer spreads directly to the skin and it clogs the lymphatic vessels, thereby triggering skin redness and breast swelling. “Even a swollen breast without redness should be evaluated,” said Dr. Wendy Woodward, radiation oncology breast section chief and deputy director of the IBC program at MD Anderson Cancer Center. Other symptoms of IBC include redness around the breast, pain or tenderness in the breast, an inverted nipple, and swollen lymph nodes underneath the arm or near the collarbone.

Read on to learn more about this unlikely symptom and form of breast cancer.