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