Doctor explains ‘new cancer' being discussed in forwarded e-mails

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MURRAY -- A little-known form of breast cancer has generated e-mails and calls recently at Intermountain Medical Center's breast cancer facility. It's called Paget disease, and it often begins with a harmless-looking rash.

Paget disease is a cancer of the nipple. It is rare--less than 5 percent of all breast cancers--and it can easily go undetected.

"It is the cancer that mimics a very common dermatological condition, which is eczema. So, women have to be very careful when they develop a rash," says Dr. Brett Parkinson, radiologist at Intermountain Medical Center.

A recent e-mail has been forwarded through families and circles of friends warning that Paget disease is a new form of breast cancer. Actually, it dates back to 1874 and is named for Sir James Paget, a British surgeon who discovered the disease.

Symptoms for Paget disease of the nipple include:

  • redness, itching or burning sensation
  • pain and sensitivity
  • scaling and thickening of skin
  • yellowish or bloody discharge from the nipple

Even if the rash improves with a steroid cream, a woman should still have her breast examined by a specialist.

"If you have inflammation of the nipple and you apply steroids rather faithfully for a couple of weeks and it gets better, you may still have cancer. So, you need to make sure it resolves and it does not come back in any form," Parkinson says.

There actually is a slightly higher risk group for this form of cancer.

"The age range is 56 to 62 years, with a median age of about 59. Now, can 80-year-olds get it? Yes. Can 40-year-olds get it? Yes. But it's usually in the late 50s," Parkinson says.

The good news: Paget disease is non-invasive and, if caught early, something can be done about it.

"Appropriate surgical therapy is performed, either a mastectomy or a lumpectomy; the survival rate approaches 100 percent," Parkinson says.

Parkinson says in 2009 he will expect to see 25 to 40 cases of Paget disease in Utah.


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Carole Mikita


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