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Primary breast abscess

Author
J Michael Dixon, MD
Section Editors
Anees B Chagpar, MD, MSc, MA, MPH, MBA, FACS, FRCS(C)
Daniel J Sexton, MD
Deputy Editors
Elinor L Baron, MD, DTMH
Wenliang Chen, MD, PhD

INTRODUCTION

A breast abscess is a localized collection of pus in the breast tissue. Primary breast abscesses develop when mastitis or cellulitis does not respond to antibiotic treatment. It is an uncommon problem in breastfeeding with a reported incidence of 0.1 percent [1]; the incidence among women with antibiotic-treated mastitis is 3 percent [2].

Issues related to primary breast abscess will be reviewed here. Issues related to mastitis, cellulitis, and postoperative complications of breast surgery are discussed separately. (See "Lactational mastitis" and "Nonlactational mastitis in adults" and "Breast cellulitis and other skin disorders of the breast" and "Mastectomy: Indications, types, and concurrent axillary lymph node management", section on 'Complications' and "Breast conserving therapy", section on 'Postoperative Complications'.)

ETIOLOGY

Primary breast abscesses develop as a complication of mastitis [3]. In a review of 89 patients with primary breast abscesses requiring surgical intervention, 14 percent were complications of lactational mastitis and 86 percent were complications of nonlactational mastitis [4]. The incidence of breast abscesses ranges from 0.4 to 11 percent of lactating mothers [1]. Breast abscesses in nonlactating women occurred more commonly in African Americans, obese patients, and smokers.

Risk factors for development of breast abscess as a complication of lactational mastitis include maternal age >30 years, first pregnancy, gestational age ≥41 weeks, and tobacco use [1,5,6]. Risk factors for a staphylococcal abscess in lactating mothers in one study identified problems with breastfeeding (odds ratio 5.0) and being a mother employed outside her home (odds ratio 2.74) as risk factors [7].

In a retrospective study of 68 patients with any type of breast abscess, smoking was a significant risk factor for the development of an abscess (odds ratio 8.0, 95% CI 3.4-19.4) [8]. Of the 68 cases, over half (54 percent) needed multiple surgical treatments and 22 of these were heavy smokers. Five patients developed fistulas and all were heavy smokers. In another retrospective study of 89 patients with a breast abscess, 39 women (43 percent) were heavy smokers [4]. The majority of patients who developed recurrent abscesses were smokers (77 percent). Smoking was the only factor significantly associated with abscess recurrence.

               
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Literature review current through: Sep 2017. | This topic last updated: Jan 26, 2017.
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