Breast abscess 


Breast abscesses are painful, pus-filled lumps that develop under the skin of the breast 

How common are breast abscesses?

Breast abscesses can affect women who are 18-50 years of age.

They are often linked to a condition called mastitis, which affects about 1 in 10 breastfeeding women and causes the breast to become red and sore.

One study found about 3% of women with mastitis who were treated with antibiotic medicines developed a breast abscess. 

A breast abscess is a painful collection of pus that forms in the breast.

Most abscesses develop just under the skin and are caused by a bacterial infection.

Breast abscesses are painful, swollen lumps that may also:

  • be red
  • feel hot
  • cause the surrounding skin to swell
  • cause a high temperature (fever)

What causes a breast abscess? 

Breast abscesses are often linked to mastitis, a condition that causes breast pain and inflammation, and usually affects women who are breastfeeding.

During breastfeeding, infections can occur if bacteria enter your breast tissue, or if the milk ducts (tiny tubes that carry milk) become blocked. This can cause mastitis which, left untreated, can result in an abscess forming.

Sometimes, non-breastfeeding women can also develop mastitis if bacteria enter the milk ducts through a sore or cracked nipple, or a nipple piercing.

White blood cells are sent to attack the infection which causes tissue at the site of the infection to die. This creates a small, hollow area that fills with pus (an abscess).

Read more about what causes breast abscesses.

When to visit your GP

See your GP if your breast is red and sore. If you have mastitis, you may be prescribed antibiotics to treat the infection.

If your symptoms persist after taking antibiotics, your GP may refer you for an ultrasound scan which will confirm whether you have a breast abscess. This type of scan uses high-frequency sound waves to create an image of the inside of your body.

Treating a breast abscess

If you have a breast abscess, it will need to be drained. Small breast abscesses can be drained using a needle and syringe. For larger abscesses, a small incision may be needed to drain the pus.

For both procedures, a local anaesthetic will usually be given to numb the skin around the abscess so you do not feel pain or discomfort.

Read more about how breast abscesses are treated.

Page last reviewed: 02/08/2012

Next review due: 02/08/2014


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The 3 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Tom Tom said on 09 December 2013

After having a mamagram and an ultrasound nothing has shown up. Started out three months ago with an inflamed breast and under my arm, temp, and swelling. After mamagram nothing showed up but pain continued along with the systems. Then treated for infection in the breast and given cephalex, which took away the heat, swelling and temp. Had ultrasound and radiologist said could see nothing but looked like something had been there. Continued to take cephalex but still have the pain. Now off the cephalex and have not place to go. Can't be treated as nothing has showed up on the ultrasound. Any suggestions.

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butt3rfly said on 06 March 2013

I read this article while in hospital with a breast abcess and your comment heidigong terrified me. My abcess was treated successfully and without complication by the NHS. I would like other people reading this page to know that while heidigong is experiencing extreme complications with her breast abcess, this is not what 'normally' happens. Breast abcesses are serious and in the majority of cases are very treatable.

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heidigong said on 21 February 2013

I have had a reocurring breast abscess for 2 years . I have had 4 operations on it . The last one I had was on the 6th feb where a big chuck of breast was removed and my nipple . A week later my breast burst open . I feel very let down , and feel I am Back to square 1 left with a mass opening . I have asked to see another surgeon but have been fobbed of one way or other .

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