SINGAPORE - A breast abscess, a collection of pus in the breast tissue, can affect both men and women.
It can occur in any part of the breast, said Dr Felicia Tan, a breast and general surgeon at Mount Elizabeth Hospital and Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital.
About 5 per cent of breastfeeding women develop lactational breast abscesses.
This occurs when bacteria is introduced from the infant's mouth to the mother's milk ducts through cracked nipples, she said.
Milk attracts bacteria because it is a good source of nutrients. But this is no reason for a mother to stop breastfeeding because the bacteria from an abscess in the breast does not travel to the milk consumed by the baby.
Other causes would be breast cancer or an autoimmune condition known as granulomatous inflammation, which causes breast tissues to die.
Bacterial infections are usually treated with antibiotics, granulomatous inflammation with steroids, while breast cancer may require surgery, radiotherapy or chemotherapy.
Dr Tan said that in mild cases - with no more than 10ml of pus, mild pain and redness over the skin - treatment can be as simple as drawing out the pus with a needle and syringe in a clinic.
In more serious cases, the patient may have other symptoms such as severe pain, fever, chills and rigours, possibly indicating septic shock (a life-threatening condition of low blood pressure and poor organ function).
Dr Tan said surgery would then be needed to fully drain the pus.
It is possible that herbs or supplements that contain similar substances as medication, such as antibiotics and steroids, may have a similar effect on breast abscesses.
Nonetheless, she advised those who have pain or redness in the breast to consult a breast specialist, especially if these symptoms are accompanied by fever orif the person is breastfeeding.
Early intervention, she said, can help one to avoid surgery.
The good news is that more than 90 per cent of breast infections resolve with antibiotics, before abscesses form.
Breastfeeding mothers should get in the habit of pumping their breasts every two to three hours to prevent the milk from stagnating, which can lead to infections, she advised.
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