The worrying skin change that could mean you have breast cancer

OVER 55,000 people are diagnosed with breast cancer each year in the UK and spotting it early can be life saving.

Some of the main symptoms include a lump or bump on the breast or armpit, but experts have now revealed a troubling symptom that can show up on the skin.

Writing in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), doctors in India explained the case of a 65-year-old man who presented at a dermatology clinic in Jhajjar.

The man explained how he had experienced a thickening of the skin over the left side of his chest and on his left arm.

He said that this had been happening for seven months – but that it did not give him any pain.

Medics examined the man and found that the skin on the left side of the chest and on the left nipple was sclerotic.

This is when the skin tissue hardens and tightens.

The medics also found multiple erythematous nodules on the left arm and lymphedema in the left arm and left axillary lymphadenopathy were present. 

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Erythematous nodules is an inflammatory condition and can be a sign of cancer and Lymphedema is the build-up of fluid in soft body tissues when the lymph system is damaged or blocked.

Axillary lymphadenopathy refers to a change in the lymph nodes in the armpit.

The experts took a skin biopsy which showed metastatic carcinoma that was strongly suggestive of a primary breast cancer.

Breast Cancer Now states that primary breast cancer is breast cancer that hasn't spread beyond the breast or the lymph nodes (glands) under the arm.

They explain: "Breast cancer starts when cells in the breast begin to divide and grow in an abnormal way.

"Breast cancer is not one single disease and there are several types."

Medics attributed the skin issues to carcinoma en cuirasse, a rare form of cutaneous breast cancer metastasis that results in extensive fibrosis of the skin and subcutaneous tissues of the chest wall.

What are the main signs of breast cancer?

For most women, the first sign or symptom of breast cancer is a lump or area of thickened tissue in their breast.

While 90 per cent of such lumps are not cancerous, it is vital to get them checked by your GP at the earliest opportunity – detecting the disease early can mean treatment is more effective.

Here are the main signs to watch out for:

  1. Change in breast size or shape
  2. Redness or a rash
  3. Nipple discharge
  4. Swelling in the armpit or around the collarbone
  5. Change in skin texture
  6. An inverted nipple
  7. Constant pain

The experts explained: "The name derives from the resemblance of the condition to a breastplate of armor."

The patient was referred to the oncology clinic and pallative chemotherapy was administered.

Carcinoma en cuirasse (CeC), is also known as scirrhous carcinoma.

It is a rare form of cutaneous metastasis of breast cancer and due to the rarity of cases, data on this type of cancer is limited.

This can make it hard to diagnose as it can often be mistaken for other skin conditions.

There are a range of treatments for breast cancer, with the type or combination used depending on how the cancer was diagnosed and the stage it has reached.

Once cancer has been diagnosed, you should be assigned a multidisciplinary team who will discuss the most suitable course of treatment.

As well as the stage and grade of the disease, doctors will take into consideration the patient's general health and whether they have experienced the menopause.

The key treatments are:

  • surgery
  • radiotherapy
  • chemotherapy
  • hormone therapy
  • biological therapy (targeted therapy)

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