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Breast Abscess and Masses Clinical Presentation

  • Author: Andrew C Miller, MD; Chief Editor: Jeter (Jay) Pritchard Taylor, III, MD  more...
 
Updated: May 24, 2016
 

History

Breast mass

See the list below:

  • Palpable mass (typically unilateral)
  • Family history of breast disease (malignant or benign)
  • Early menarche (< 12 years) and obstetrical parity (nulliparity)
  • Late menopause (age >55 years)
  • Associated symptoms of pain, nipple discharge, and skin changes (eg, dimpling or inflammation, nipple inversion)
  • Length of time present, speed of growth

Mastitis

See the list below:

  • Localized breast erythema, warmth, swelling, and pain
  • May have fever, chills, or rigor
  • Lactation history including difficulty with breastfeeding, breast engorgement, or chafed nipples [9]  

Breast abscess

See the list below:

  • Localized breast edema, erythema, warmth, and pain [4]
  • Any history of prior breast infection
  • Associated symptoms of fever, nausea, vomiting, and spontaneous drainage from the mass or nipple [9, 4]
  • Lactation history (consider if weaning or returning to work)
  • If not lactating, consider diabetes (polyuria, polydipsia, frequent infections, weight change)
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Physical

Perform a thorough breast examination in any patient presenting with a breast complaint and in any older woman presenting with unexplained weight loss, anorexia, or bone pain.

Breast mass

See the list below:

  • Firm mass of variable shape and size
  • Fifty percent of masses found in the upper outer quadrant of the breast
  • May have associated pain with palpation (most are painless)
  • Nipple discharge, inversion, changes, or asymmetry
  • Skin retraction or tethering
  • Axillary lymphadenopathy
  • Inflammatory changes of the skin (ie, peau d'orange)
  • Pay special attention to associated upper-extremity neurologic motor or sensory abnormalities, as these may herald invasion of the brachial plexus—an indication for emergent radiation therapy

Mastitis

See the list below:

  • Localized breast erythema, warmth, induration, swelling, and tenderness
  • May have associated fever

Breast abscess

See the list below:

  • Localized breast erythema, warmth, induration, edema, and tenderness
  • Most frequently areolar or periareolar (may also be peripheral)
  • Fluctuance, although swelling may limit ability to palpate a mass
  • May have associated fever or axillary lymphadenopathy
  • Nipple discharge or inversion
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Causes

Malignant

Risk factors include the following:

  • Female sex
  • Age older than 40 years
  • Family history of a first-degree relative with breast cancer
  • Menarche before age 12 years
  • Menopause after age 55 years
  • Nulliparity
  • First pregnancy after age 30 years
  • Therapeutic radiation over chest before age 30 years
  • Hormone replacement therapy
  • A history of smoking tobacco products for more than 15 years [23]
  • BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations (responsible for approximately 5% of all breast cancers; inherited in an autosomal dominant fashion; women with mutations in either of these genes have a lifetime risk of breast cancer of 60%-85% and a lifetime risk of ovarian cancer of 15%-40%) [24]

Exercise has been shown to decrease the risk of breast cancer in women at high risk for developing a malignancy. However, further studies are needed to verify this association and its relationship to preventing breast cancer in women on tamoxifen therapy (standard treatment for preventing breast cancer recurrence).[23]

Alcohol consumption has not been shown to increase the risk of developing breast cancer.[23]

Benign

Developmental breast lesions

Prepubertal and peripubertal developmental breast lesions may include abnormalities of embryology and gynecomastia.

Abnormalities of embryology include polythelia (accessory nipples) and polymastia (supernumerary breasts).

Gynecomastia is characterized by excessive development of breast tissues in males. It can be physiologic or pathologic in teens.

Neonatal breast hypertrophy is a common transient condition that results from elevation of maternal hormones, seen in up to 90% of all newborns. 

Non-developmental breast lesions

Fibrocystic changes

Lobules of the breast may dilate and form cysts of varying sizes, due to hormonal changes in the menstrual cycle. Cysts are found in about 1 in 3 women aged 35-50 years.[12] Rupturing of the cysts can cause scarring and inflammation that leads to fibrotic changes, which feel rubbery, firm, or hard.

Hyperplasia

Hyperplasia is caused by an overgrowth of cells that line the ducts or lobules. About 1 in 4 women have mild or usual hyperplasia.[12] About 1 in 25 women have atypical hyperplasia (associated with an increased risk of malignancy).[12]

Adenosis

An increase in the number of glands.

Fibroadenoma[6, 13, 25]

Fibroadenoma is the most common cause of breast mass in women younger than 35 years and comprises 91% of all solid breast masses in females younger than 19 years.[25] These arise from the terminal duct lobular unit and appear clinically as singular, firm, rubbery, smooth, mobile, painless masses ranging in size from 1-5 cm. They may grow to a large size, thereby affecting the contours of the overlying skin and overall shape of the breast. Ultrasonography reveals a well-defined hypoechoic homogeneous mass 1-20 cm in diameter.[13, 25] Fibroadenomas appear as multiple masses in 10%-15% of patients.[13]

Breast adenoma. A) A breast adenoma is oval with w Breast adenoma. A) A breast adenoma is oval with well-defined borders. It may be hypoechoic and some internal echogenicity may be seen. It is wider than tall and posterior acoustic enhancement is NOT seen, helping distinguish from a cyst or other fluid collection. B) An arrow indicates the adenoma.
Loculated breast abscess, curvilinear. A) This is Loculated breast abscess, curvilinear. A) This is the same abscess seen in the above image and is imaged with a curvilinear transducer to better appreciate the extent of the abscess. It is important to image the abscess completely for width and depth. B) The abscess is outlined in yellow and the ribs and posterior acoustic enhancement are noted.
Purulent breast abscess. A) A purulent breast absc Purulent breast abscess. A) A purulent breast abscess is seen. The fluid is echogenic, but can be recognized as a disruption of the surrounding tissue and posterior acoustic enhancement. B) The abscess is outlined in yellow and the posterior acoustic enhancement is noted.
Complex breast abscess. In this clip, the features of a loculated breast abscess containing echogenic purulent material are noted. Example of imaging with a linear high-frequency transducer.
Loculated breast abscess, curvilinear. In this clip, a large, loculated breast abscess and its features are noted. Example of imaging with a lower-frequency curvilinear transducer to better appreciate the extent of this large abscess.

Phyllodes tumor[6, 25]

Phyllodes tumor is also known as cystosarcoma phyllodes or giant fibroadenoma. Although generally benign, a malignant variant occurs in 10% of cases. Incidence is highest among women aged 40-60 years. Phyllodes tumor is also the most common primary breast malignancy in adolescents.[25] The most common presentation is that of a large (average 5 cm), solitary, firm, breast nodule. Ultrasonographic findings of the mass may appear identical to those of a fibroadenoma with well-circumscribed borders and small cysts.[25]

Papillary adenoma of the nipple[6]

Papillary adenoma is also known as erosive adenomatosis of the nipple, adenoma of the nipple, florid papillomatosis of the nipple, and subareolar duct papillomatosis of the nipple. This is believed to arise from terminal lactiferous ducts. Incidence is highest among women aged 40-50 years. It commonly presents with unilateral serous or bloody nipple discharge that increases before menses.

Vascular lesions

Vascular lesions are usually benign. The most common form is hemangioma. Surgical excision may be required.[25]

Breast abscess

Puerperal breast abscesses most often contain S aureus and streptococcal species. Methicillin-resistant S aureus (MRSA) has become increasingly common.[19] Nonpuerperal abscesses typically contain mixed flora (S aureus, streptococcal species) and anaerobes.[3] Diabetes is strongly associated with incidence and clinical outcomes of breast abscesses in nonlactating women. One study demonstrated a 72% prevalence of diabetes in women with nonpuerperal abscesses.[26] Cigarette smoking is a debated risk factor but has been shown to have a strong association with development of nonpuerperal mastitis.[27, 19, 3] There may also be an association with inadequate vitamin A supplementation.[8]

Loculated breast abscess. A) A large loculated abs Loculated breast abscess. A) A large loculated abscess is seen containing hypoechoic fuid and some internal echoes. Posterior acoustic enhancement is seen. Care must be taken to image at an adequate depth to visualize posterior borders of breast lesions. B) The abscess is outlined in yellow and the posterior acoustic enhancement is noted.

Mastitis

Mastitis occurs in up to 33% of lactating women, with its highest incidence within 6 weeks postpartum or while weaning breast feeding.[15, 28, 29, 29] Periductal mastitis comprises 3%-4% of all benign lesions of the breast.[6] It may be associated with milk stasis caused by ineffective positioning of the baby, limited feeding, or restricted feeding.[9] Of infective mastitis cases, S aureus is the most common cause. Streptococci, enterococci, S epidermidis, Peptostreptococcus species, Prevotella species, and Escherichia coli are less common causes. True fungal mastitis is rare and should prompt evaluation for coexisting diabetes mellitus. In infants, infections with Shigella, E coli, and Klebsiella species have been reported.[17] Mastitis that is refractory to appropriate treatment should prompt evaluation for tuberculous mastitis.[11]  

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Contributor Information and Disclosures
Author

Andrew C Miller, MD Vice Chair of Research, Department of Emergency Medicine, Ruby Memorial Hospital, West Virginia University School of Medicine

Andrew C Miller, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Emergency Physicians, Society of Critical Care Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Coauthor(s)

John W Hall, IV West Virginia University School of Medicine

John W Hall, IV is a member of the following medical societies: American Medical Association, American Medical Student Association/Foundation, Phi Beta Kappa

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Suha Abdulkarim Khafaji, MBBS Research Physician, Department of Emergency Medicine, West Virginia University School of Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Joseph J Minardi, MD Associate Professor, Department of Emergency Medicine, Department of Medical Education, West Virginia University School of Medicine; Director of Emergency Ultrasound, Department of Emergency Medicine, West Virginia University Hospitals

Joseph J Minardi, MD is a member of the following medical societies: Academy of Emergency Ultrasound, American College of Emergency Physicians, American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine, American Medical Association, American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography, American Society of Echocardiography, Emergency Ultrasound Fellowship, Society for Academic Emergency Medicine, Society of Ultrasound in Medical Education

Disclosure: Received income in an amount equal to or greater than $250 from: General Electric.

Specialty Editor Board

Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Received salary from Medscape for employment. for: Medscape.

Barry J Sheridan, DO Chief Warrior in Transition Services, Brooke Army Medical Center

Barry J Sheridan, DO is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Emergency Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

Jeter (Jay) Pritchard Taylor, III, MD Assistant Professor, Department of Surgery, University of South Carolina School of Medicine; Attending Physician, Clinical Instructor, Compliance Officer, Department of Emergency Medicine, Palmetto Richland Hospital

Jeter (Jay) Pritchard Taylor, III, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Emergency Medicine, American College of Emergency Physicians, American Medical Association, Columbia Medical Society, Society for Academic Emergency Medicine, South Carolina College of Emergency Physicians, South Carolina Medical Association

Disclosure: Serve(d) as a director, officer, partner, employee, advisor, consultant or trustee for: Employed contractor - Chief Editor for Medscape.

Additional Contributors

Caitlin Kennedy, MD Resident Physician, Department of Emergency Medicine, West Virginia University School of Medicine

Caitlin Kennedy, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Emergency Physicians, American Medical Association, Society for Academic Emergency Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Acknowledgements

The authors and editors of Medscape Reference gratefully acknowledge the contributions of previous authors, Sadia Hussain, MD, Tajinderpal Saraon, MD, Mark Silverberg, MD, Howard A Blumstein, MD, and Amy K Rontal, MD, to the development and writing of this article.

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Ultrasonogram demonstrates a hypoechoic mass with smooth, partially lobulated margins typical of a fibroadenoma.
Craniocaudal mammograms obtained 1 year apart demonstrate a newly developing mass in the outer part of the breast.
Spot compression mammogram of the outer part of the breast demonstrates a new mass as smooth, margined, and oval. The findings are consistent with a fibroadenoma, a cyst, or a malignancy. In this patient, the diagnosis was a rapidly growing fibroadenoma.
Eggshell or rim calcifications (arrows) have walls thinner than those of lucent-centered calcifications.
This mass with associated large, coarse calcifications (arrows) is a degenerating fibroadenoma.
Breast cancer, ultrasonography. Mediolateral oblique digital mammogram of the right breast in a 66-year-old woman with a new, opaque, irregular mass approximately 1 cm in diameter. The mass has spiculated margins in the middle third of the right breast at the 10-o'clock position. Image demonstrates both the spiculated mass (black arrow) and separate anterior focal asymmetry (white arrow).
Breast cancer, ultrasonography. Antiradial sonogram of the spiculated mass (shown in the image above) demonstrates a hypoechoic mass with angular margins (black arrows). Cursors on the margins of the mass were used to electronically measure its dimensions of the mass, which was 0.9 X 0.8 cm.
Breast cyst. A) A simple, fairly round breast cyst with hypo or anechoic contents and well-defined borders; B) Posterior acoustic enhancement is seen as well as edge shadows (arrows).
Breast adenoma. A) A breast adenoma is oval with well-defined borders. It may be hypoechoic and some internal echogenicity may be seen. It is wider than tall and posterior acoustic enhancement is NOT seen, helping distinguish from a cyst or other fluid collection. B) An arrow indicates the adenoma.
Breast hematoma. A) A breast hematoma is seen as a round echogenic collection with surrounding tissue edema. A hematoma may be hypoechoic, mixed, or fairly echogenic depending on the stage of the hematoma. B) The hematoma is outlined and tissue edema noted.
Loculated breast abscess. A) A large loculated abscess is seen containing hypoechoic fuid and some internal echoes. Posterior acoustic enhancement is seen. Care must be taken to image at an adequate depth to visualize posterior borders of breast lesions. B) The abscess is outlined in yellow and the posterior acoustic enhancement is noted.
Loculated breast abscess, curvilinear. A) This is the same abscess seen in the above image and is imaged with a curvilinear transducer to better appreciate the extent of the abscess. It is important to image the abscess completely for width and depth. B) The abscess is outlined in yellow and the ribs and posterior acoustic enhancement are noted.
Purulent breast abscess. A) A purulent breast abscess is seen. The fluid is echogenic, but can be recognized as a disruption of the surrounding tissue and posterior acoustic enhancement. B) The abscess is outlined in yellow and the posterior acoustic enhancement is noted.
Complex breast abscess. In this clip, the features of a loculated breast abscess containing echogenic purulent material are noted. Example of imaging with a linear high-frequency transducer.
Loculated breast abscess, curvilinear. In this clip, a large, loculated breast abscess and its features are noted. Example of imaging with a lower-frequency curvilinear transducer to better appreciate the extent of this large abscess.
 
 
 
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