A breast abscess is a painful collection of pus that forms in the breast. Most abscesses develop just under the skin and are caused by a bacterial infection. Breast abscesses commonly happen as a complication of mastitis. Mastitis is a condition that causes breast pain and swelling (inflammation).
Symptoms of a breast abscess
Breast abscesses are painful, swollen lumps that may also:
- be red
- feel hot
- cause the surrounding skin to swell
- cause a fever (high temperature)
Causes of a breast abscess
Infections can occur during breastfeeding if bacteria enter your breast tissue, or if the milk ducts (tiny tubes) become blocked. This can cause mastitis. If mastitis is not treated, it can lead to an abscess forming.
Women who aren't breastfeeding can also develop mastitis if bacteria enter the milk ducts through a sore or cracked nipple, or a nipple piercing (although there can be other causes).
White blood cells are sent to attack the infection. This causes tissue at the site of the infection to die. This creates a small, hollow area that fills with pus (an abscess).
When to visit your GP
See your GP if your breast is red and sore. If you have mastitis, antibiotics may be prescribed to treat the infection.
If your symptoms persist after taking antibiotics, your GP may refer you for an ultrasound scan. This will confirm whether you have a breast abscess. This type of scan uses high-frequency sound waves to create an image of the inside of your body.
Treating a breast abscess
A breast abscess will need to be drained. Small breast abscesses can be drained using a needle and syringe. If the abscess is large, a small incision may be needed to drain the pus.
For both procedures, a local anaesthetic will usually be given to numb the skin around the abscess. This is to reduce any pain or discomfort.
Diagnosing breast problems
You should always visit your GP if you notice any changes to your breasts, such as:
- a breast lump
- discharge (leaking fluid) from your nipples
In some cases, these types of symptoms could be a sign of breast cancer.
If you have a lump on your breast, you'll be referred to a breast clinic for an assessment, which may include an ultrasound scan and a mammogram (breast X-ray).
More useful links
The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.
For further information see terms and conditions.