To Your Good Health
Extreme itch causes much concern
DEAR DR. ROACH: I am a 68-year-old female who has had four benign breast biopsies/lumpectomies in the last 25 years. I’ve also been dealing with extreme itching on one side of my breast. I recently had my annual 3D mammogram as well as an ultrasound, which didn’t show anything amiss. Could scar tissue from lumpectomies be a cause behind this? Or should I encourage my gynecologist to order an MRI? I have small, dense breasts, and I’m concerned about an inflammatory type of breast cancer. — S.W.
ANSWER: There are many reports of itching after a biopsy. The itching normally goes away, and I don’t know how long it has been since the biopsies or when the itching started. There are many types of skin conditions that can cause itching, and fortunately, these are much more common to cause itching than cancer does.
Inflammatory breast cancer is one of the most aggressive and, thankfully, uncommon types of breast cancer. This disease may look like infection of the skin, but it does not respond to antibiotics. The skin has a very characteristic look (“peau d’orange” — an uneven thickening of the skin resembling the texture of an orange peel), along with symptoms of redness and warmth. The mammogram and ultrasound can come out negative in very early stages of inflammatory breast cancer, but the exam is always abnormal.
I do want to emphasize that it is possible to have breast cancer and have normal breast imaging. Women with dense breasts, like yourself, are particularly prone to false-negative mammograms. If the suspicion for breast cancer is high, like with a palpable mass, a biopsy is indicated even if the imaging is reassuring. However, only about 3% of breast cancers have a normal ultrasound and mammogram, and inflammatory breast cancer wouldn’t show up when there’s an absence of visual skin changes, warmth or redness, in addition to normal imaging.
In the absence of a mass, itching alone wouldn’t normally make me insist on additional imaging. However, my personal practice is to frequently refer patients to a breast surgeon for an expert opinion.
DEAR DR. ROACH: I had a positive COVID result last year, and several months later, I began having tremors in my right hand. It stops when I rest my hand on my lap, but when I start moving my hand, it shakes. I am unable to stop this unless I hold it.
I have also heard of another person having the same symptoms after getting COVID. Has there been any follow-up regarding this problem? — L.D.
ANSWER: There is definitely an increase in Parkinson’s disease following COVID infection, but I can’t say what might be causing your tremor. Just because it happened after a COVID infection doesn’t necessarily mean that the tremor is due to COVID. There are several types of tremors besides Parkinson’s, such as an essential tremor. A neurologist, preferably one who is an expert in movement disorders, could make a diagnosis after a careful exam, and sometimes further testing.
Neurological syndromes that arise after COVID infection are treated the same way as they would be without any history of COVID. Once the diagnosis is made for sure, you will learn more about the treatment options.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Dr. Roach regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but will incorporate them in the column whenever possible. Readers may email questions to ToYourGoodHealth@med.cornell.edu or send mail to 628 Virginia Dr., Orlando, FL 32803.