About Mastitis

What is Mastitis? It is essentially an infection of breast tissue, which may result in swelling, pain, redness, and warmth in the breast. Mastitis often involves nipple discharge as well. The term is widely used to cover a range of related conditions, some of which may involve inflammation. Sometimes the breast inflammation or infection are due to problems associated with breast feeding, in which case it is termed ‘lactation mastitis‘, or ‘puerperal mastitis‘. (puerperal means ‘related to the period of time following childbirth‘) When the condition occurs with non-lactating women it is called ‘non-puerperal‘ mastitis.


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Mastitis is usually caused by an over-supply of breast milk. However, essentially the same symptoms may be caused by breast ducts which have become plugged, and there is always a possibility that breast cancer is the underlying cause. There is a very serious and aggressive form of breast cancer called ‘inflammatory breast cancer‘ which has similar symptoms to mastitis. For this reason, the condition is taken quite seriously, and if symptoms are not resolved with five weeks, a full investigation and screening for breast cancer should be initiated.


Does Mastitis increase risk for breast cancer?

Mastitis is an infection and completely unrelated to a genetic disease like breast cancer. However, there is some evidence that when non-puerperal mastitis (not related to childbirth and breast feeding) occurs, the chances of developing a non-inflammatory breast cancer within the next year or two or somewhat increased. This suggests that a woman may have a higher-than-average genetic predisposition to breast tissue diseases, and it might be a good idea to have breast cancer screening, or at least clinical examination, more frequently.

Other names and related conditions for mastitis

Mastitis is a general term for breast infection, and there are a variety of other terms associated with subtle differences and the presence of inflammation, discharge, and the amount of tissue damage which has occurred. Alternate and related terms include subareolar abscess, duct ectasia, periductal inflammation- periductal mastitis, Zuska’s disease, comedo mastitis, mastitis obliterans, plasma cell mastitis, and cholesterol granuloma.

Idiopathic granulomatous lobular mastitis (IGLM)

Idiopathic granulomatous mastitis, (or Idiopathic granulomatous lobular mastitis -IGLM), is an uncommon chronic inflammatory breast lesion which is clinically very similar to breast cancer. IGLM often forms a palpable breast mass, and may even resemble breast carcinoma on an mammogram. This condition generally occurs only in younger women in the years following the birth of a child, but has not been shown to be consistently related to either breastfeeding, or the use of oral contraceptives.

Treatment for mastitis

Simple mastitis is usually treated with antibiotics, and with self-help techniques for emptying the breast of milk more frequently and fully.

Here are a few Q & A you may be thinking about…:

  • What are mastitis symptoms? Breast tenderness, redness, enlargement (swelling), or sensitivity. As well as warm area in the breast tissue, itchiness, liquid or pus discharge from nipple, changes in sensation, fever, aches, headache, swollen lymph node on same side, and lump. You also may feel anxious or stressed.
  • Mastitis what kind of antibiotics? Keflex – cephalexin, and dicloxacillin.
  • Mastitis are antibiotics necessary? Mastitis will not go away without treatment. If you have any symptoms, you need to call your doctor as soon as possible.
  • Mastitis how long does it last? It is quick and easy to treat. You should start feeling improvement within 48 hours of starting antibiotics, and it won’t be that long before you feel 100% better.
  • Mastitis how to prevent? The best way to prevent mastitis is to get plenty of rest and eat a healthy, balanced diet while you’re nursing. Also, avoid letting your breasts become overly full. If your breasts aren’t empty after nursing or pumping, or you have a plugged duct, I recommend you use warm compresses and massage o get the milk out. Avoid underwire bars and bras that are too small for you.
  • How mastitis starts? Mastitis usually stars as a painful area in one breast. It may be red or warm to the touch, or both. You may also have fever, chills, and body aches.
  • Mastitis when breastfeeding – You can safely continue breast feeding your baby or pumping breast milk to feed your baby during illness and treatment. Your little one is the most efficient pump you have for emptying your breasts. Your breast milk is still safe for your baby to drink, because any bacteria in your milk will be destroyed by the baby’s digestive juices.


  1. Middleton LP, Amin M, Gwyn K, Theriault R, Sahin A (2003). “Breast carcinoma in pregnant women: assessment of clinicopathologic and immunohistochemical features”. Cancer 98 (5): 1055 60
  2. Peters F, Kiesslich A, Pahnke V (2002). "Coincidence of nonpuerperal mastitis and noninflammatory breast cancer". Eur. J. Obstet. Gynecol. Reprod. Biol. 105 (1): 59–63
  3. Lee, Jei Hee., Oh, Ki Keun., Kim, Eun-Kim., Kwack, Kyu Sung., Jung, Woo Hee., Lee, Han Kyung. Radiologic and Clinical Features of Idiopathic Granulomatous Lobular Mastitis Mimicking Advanced Breast Cancer. (Yonsei University College of Medicine) Yonsei Med J. 2006 February 28; 47(1): 78–84.
  4. Rieber A, Tomczak RJ, Mergo PJ, Wenzel V, Zeitler H, Brambs HJ. MRI of the breast in the differential diagnosis of mastitis versus inflammatory carcinoma and follow-up. J Comput Assist Tomogr. 1997;21:128–132
  5. Kessler E, Wolloch Y. Granulomatous mastitis: a lesion clinically simulating carcinoma. Am J Clin Pathol. 1972;58:642–646.
  6. Foxman B; D’Arcy H; Gillespie B; Bobo JK; Schwartz K. Lactation mastitis: occurrence and medical management among 946 breastfeeding women in the United States. Am J Epidemiol 2002 Jan 15;155(2):103-14

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