Paget's disease of the nipple is a rare type of skin cancer that originates in glands in or under the skin.
The term Paget's disease also refers to an unrelated metabolic bone disease (see Paget Disease of Bone). These distinct diseases should not be confused with each other.
Paget's disease occurs mainly on the nipple and results from a cancer of the breast milk ducts that has spread to the skin of the nipple. Both men and women are affected. The underlying cancer may or may not be felt by the person or the doctor. Sometimes Paget's disease develops in areas other than the breast (extramammary Paget's disease). It can develop in the genital area or around the anus as the result of a cancer originating in underlying sweat glands or even in nearby structures such as the genitals, intestines, or urinary tract.
The skin in Paget's disease appears red, oozing, and crusting. It looks like an inflamed reddened patch of skin (dermatitis) as may result from many other possible causes. Itching and pain are common. Because Paget's disease looks very much like common dermatitis, a biopsy is necessary to make the diagnosis.
Paget's disease of the nipple is managed like other types of breast cancer (see Breast Disorders: Treatment of Specific Types of Breast Cancer). Paget's disease outside the breast area is treated by surgically removing the entire growth.
Last full review/revision October 2008 by Gregory L. Wells, MD