Inflammatory Breast Disease

Original Author: Fergus Wood and Kate Reynolds
Last Updated: March 17, 2019
Revisions: 12

Mastitis

Introduction

Mastitis describes inflammation of the breast tissue, both acute or chronic. By far the most common cause is from infection, typically through S. Aureus, but can occasionally be granulomatous.

Mastitis can be classed by lactation status:

  • Lactational mastitis (more common) is seen in up to a third of breastfeeding women; it usually presents during the first 3 months of breastfeeding or during weaning
    • It is associated with cracked nipples and milk stasis (often caused by poor feeding technique), and is more common with the first child
  • Non-lactational mastitis (less common) can also occur, especially in women with other conditions such as duct ectasia, as a peri-ductal mastitis
    • Tobacco smoking is an important risk factor, causing damage to the sub-areolar duct walls and predisposing to bacterial infection

Clinical Features

Mastitis presents with tenderness, swelling or induration, and erythema over the area of infection. In the assessment, it is important to ensure there is no localised abscess formation occurring.

Management

Mastitis is best managed with systemic antibiotic therapy and simple analgesics.

In lactational mastitis, continued milk drainage or feeding is recommended. Cessation of breastfeeding using dopamine agonists (such as Cabergoline) can be considered in women with persistent or multiple areas of infection.

Breast Abscess

A breast abscess is a collection of pus within the breast lined with granulation tissue, most commonly developing from acute mastitis.

They present with tender fluctuant and erythematous masses, with a puncutum potentially present. Associated systemic symptoms include fever and lethargy. A suspected abscess can be confirmed via an ultrasound scan if there is any doubt regarding the diagnosis.

The initial phase is often fully reversible with prompt empirical antibiotics and US-guided needle therapeutic aspiration. More advanced abscesses may require incision and drainage under a local anaesthetic.

An important complication of drainage of a non-lactational abscess is the formation of a mammary duct fistula (a communication between the skin and a subareolar breast duct), which, whilst they can be managed surgically with a fistulectomy and antibiotics, can often recur.


Breast Cysts

Cysts are epithelial lined fluid-filled cavities, which form when lobules become distended due to blockage, usually in the perimenopausal age group. Cysts make up 15% of presentations with palpable breast masses and 7% of women will experience one during their lifetime.

Clinical Features

They can present singularly or with multiple lumps and can affect one or both breasts. On palpation, cysts appear as distinct smooth masses that may also be tender.

Investigations

Figure 1 – A fluid-filled cavity, as demonstrated by ultrasound scanning

Cysts can be identified by their typical halo shape on mammography and can usually be definitively diagnosed using ultrasound (Fig. 1).

Persisting, symptomatic, or undeterminable cystic masses may be aspirated, either freehand or using ultrasound. Cancer may be excluded if the fluid is free of blood or the lump disappears, otherwise the cystic fluid should be sent for cytology.

Management

Once diagnosed, cysts usually require no further management and self-resolve, however women are at a higher risk of these recurring. Larger cysts can be aspirated for aesthetic reasons or patient reassurance.

Complications

Around 2% of patients with cysts have carcinoma at presentation, although most of these are incidental findings not related to the cyst itself. Patients with cysts also have a 2-3 times greater risk of developing breast cancer in the future.

Some women may develop fibroadenosis (fibrocystic change) caused by multiple small cysts and fibrotic areas. Although benign, it is often associated with tenderness and asymmetry, hence this fibrosis can often mask malignancy.

Most patients can be effectively managed with appropriate analgesia. Any cyclical pain may be treated with high dose gamolenic acid (GLA) or danazol.


Mammary Duct Ectasia

Duct ectasia is the dilation and shortening of the major lactiferous ducts. It is a common presentation in peri-menopausal women, with 40% of women having significant duct dilatation by 70yrs.

Clinical Features

Figure 2 – A mammogram demonstrating dilated calcified ducts, features in keeping with mammary duct ectasia

Duct ectasia often presents with coloured green/yellow nipple discharge*, a palpable mass, or nipple retraction.

*Any blood-stained discharge requires a triple assessment

Investigations

Duct ectasia can be identified by mammography by dilated calcified ducts (Fig. 2), without any other features of malignancy.

If biopsied, the mass typically contains multiple plasma cells on histology, which is often referred to as ‘plasma cell mastitis’.

Management

It can be managed conservatively, unless radiological findings cannot exclude malignancy. Unremitting nipple discharge can be treated with duct excision.


Fat Necrosis

Fat necrosis is a common condition caused by an acute inflammatory response in the breast, leading to ischaemic necrosis of fat lobules.

Figure 3 – Fat necrosis, as seen on histology

It is often referred to as traumatic fat necrosis due to its association with trauma, however blunt trauma to the breast is only implicated in 40% cases, with previous surgical or radiological intervention making up the remaining proportion.

Clinical Features

Fat necrosis is usually asymptomatic or presenting as a lump, however less commonly can present with fluid discharge, skin dimpling, pain and nipple inversion.

The acute inflammatory response can persist, causing a chronic fibrotic change (Fig. 3) that can subsequently develop into a solid irregular lump.

Investigations

Fat necrosis may be suggested by a positive traumatic history and/ or a hyperechoic mass on ultrasound.

More developed fibrotic lesions will mimic carcinoma on mammogram, appearing as calcified irregular speculated masses and the solid irregular lump may feel suspicious on palpation. Therefore a core biopsy is often taken to categorically rule out malignancy.

Management

Fat necrosis is self-limiting and usually only requires analgesic management and reassurance.

Key Points

  • Mastitis is inflammation of the breast tissue, best treated with early broad spectrum antibiotics
  • Breast cysts are epithelial lined fluid filled cavities within the breast tissue, usually requiring no further management and self-resolve
  • Duct ectasia often presents with coloured green/yellow nipple discharge, yet is best managed conservatively
  • Fat necrosis is ischaemic necrosis of fat lobules, associated with trauma in 40% of cases

Quiz

Question 1 / 4
What is the recommended first-line management for simple lactational mastitis?

Quiz

Question 2 / 4
What proportion of women presenting with a palpable breast mass are cysts?

Quiz

Question 3 / 4
What is mammary duct ectasia?

Quiz

Question 4 / 4
How does fat necrosis appear on ultrasound?

Results

Medico Digital

Further Reading

Best-practice care pathway for improving management of mastitis and breast abscess
Patani N et al., British Journal of Surgery

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