Signs & symptoms of paget's disease of the nipple

Written by lesley henton
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Signs & symptoms of paget's disease of the nipple
The vast majority of Paget's disease of the nipple cases are a sign of underlying breast cancer. (pink ribbon support image by robert mobley from Fotolia.com)

According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), Paget's disease of the nipple is an uncommon type of cancer that forms around the nipple and is usually a sign of underlying breast cancer. More than 95 per cent of people with Paget's disease have breast cancer, but only 5 per cent of breast cancer patients have Paget's. Most patients with Paget's disease are over 50 and the disease strikes women more often than men. If you have concerns about Paget's disease, look for the common signs and symptoms. Consult a medical professional for a proper diagnosis.

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Redness & Irritation

Named for Sir James Paget, the scientist who first associated changes in nipple appearance with breast cancer, Paget's disease of the nipple may show its early signs with redness and mild irritation on the nipple. You may also experience mild scaling and flaking of the nipple skin. Improvement may occur at this stage of the disease, but this does not mean the disease is gone. The condition could be precancerous or a sign of the presence of cancer. Only a doctor can determine whether or not your Paget's is a sign of breast cancer by performing tests, likely including a biopsy of the nipple skin.

Signs & symptoms of paget's disease of the nipple
If your doctor suspects Paget's, cells from your nipple will be examined under a microscope. (microscope image by christemo from Fotolia.com)

Pain and Discharge

As the disease advances destruction of the nipple skin will increase. Symptoms can include burning pain, itching and increased sensitivity. At this stage of the disease, there may also be discharge coming from your nipple causing crustiness. Also, the nipple may begin to appear flattened against the breast. According to the website Breast Cancer A to Z, the nipple might become inverted and sores that leak fluid may develop.

Spreading

Later on, symptoms may spread out from beyond the nipple itself to the areola or other parts of your breast. The areola is the circular area of dark skin which surrounds your nipple. If the disease has spread, the areola and surrounding areas may appear as an itchy, red rash. In rare cases, the disease can affect both breasts.

Lumps

For about half of the people with Paget's disease of the nipple, a lump or mass can develop underneath the skin. This lump may be felt during a breast examination by you or your doctor. A lump indicates that there is underlying cancer and it is more developed. "If there is no lump, the cells are probably limited to the ducts and the skin and the chances of other organs being involved is very small," according to Breast Cancer A to Z. The type of cancer normally associated with Paget's disease is Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS).

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