Paget's disease is real (but rare), not another e-mailhoax

Originally Published: September 13, 2002 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: December 23, 2008
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Dear Alice,

I was forwarded the following message in my e-mail and was wondering whether or not it's another one of those scary mass e-mail myths.

Thanks, The unbelievable truth, or a bust

 

E-mail Excerpt: Ladies, take note:

Paget's disease is a rare form of breast cancer, and is on the outside of the breast, on the nipple and areola. It appeared as a rash, which later became a lesion with a crusty outer edge. I would not have ever suspected it to be breast cancer, but it was. My nipple never seemed any different to me, but the rash bothered me so I went to my doctor for that... Pass the word.

Dear The unbelievable truth, or a bust,

The e-mail you received does describe a rare form of breast cancer, Paget's disease, that usually occurs in middle-aged women and accounts for about one percent of all breast cancers (almost 240,000 new breast cancer cases are diagnosed annually in women in the United States). Paget's disease of the breast (not to be confused with Paget's bone disease) is usually first noticed as an itching, flaking, or peeling rash on or around the nipple that does not heal over time. The rash, typically found on only one breast, can start out as a red skin irritation or inflammation of the nipple or areola that, over time, produces an oozing or crusty discharge or bleeding sores. This discharge or bleeding from the nipple is caused by a cancerous tumor growing in the milk ducts inside the breast.

Diagnosis of Paget's disease may be delayed if women or their health care providers attribute the rash to a dermatological problem, such as eczema, psoriasis, or simply skin irritation. Rashes on or around the nipple that do not heal or that produce bleeding or discharge need to be followed up immediately by a health care professional who can determine if a biopsy is needed to rule out cancer. This is one reason why monthly breast self-exams need to include a gentle squeeze of each nipple, to check for discharge.

Once Paget's disease has been confirmed, the most common treatments include surgery to remove the affected breast or nipple tissue and/or chemotherapy or radiation therapy. As with most cancers, early detection and treatment are key to long-term survival and recovery.

Again, Paget's disease is a type of cancer that is rare, but monthly breast self-exams can help you identify any changes.

Alice