Mastitis & Breast Cancer

by Arlene

Mastitis is a breast-related infection prevalent in breastfeeding women and new mothers. More specifically, mastitis is an infection in the breast ducts. It is more common in breastfeeding women because the milk ducts can sometimes become full and infected, especially if proper nipple care and hygiene is not maintained. It may also be seen in women who have neither given birth nor are breastfeeding. A break in the skin of the breast can allow bacteria to enter into the ducts. Not cleaning the nipple area properly can allow microbes to enter the breast from the opening of the nipple. In both these cases, the breast duct becomes infected and may become swollen.

Mastitis often mimics the symptoms of breast cancer. Women who experience mastitis may get a scare when they feel a lump in their breast. This lump may simply be an inflamed milk duct. Due to the infection, the milk duct is inflamed and hard to touch. There is also an increased flow of blood to the area, making the duct appear red and agitated. The swollen area may be very painful and the person may eventually develop a fever as well. Headaches are also very common with this kind of infection.

Sometimes, when the infection is very severe, there may be an infected abscess in the breast. The abscess may soon become pus-filled. These symptoms are often confused with breast cancer. Only a closer examination and blood cultures may indicate otherwise. Therefore, it is important to go to a doctor as soon as you experience any of the symptoms, so that you can get yourself tested and can eliminate the possibility of breast cancer.

Is there a Relationship between Mastitis and Breast Cancer?

Mastitis and breast cancer often have similar symptoms. Inflammatory breast cancer, a rare type of breast cancer, may often go unnoticed because it mimics the symptoms of mastitis. Researchers have believed that having mastitis does not increase the risk of developing breast cancer any time during a woman’s life. However, published studies on cancer mastitis have indicated that women who experience several mastitis infections may be at an increased risk of developing breast cancer. There is, however, no correlation between the lesions found in mastitis and breast cancer, so it can be safely concluded that mastitis lesions may not lead to cancer. The inflammation caused in mastitis is also not carcinogenic and may not contribute to the development of breast cancer.

Other research has shown that the possibility of breast cancer is significantly reduced in women who have been pregnant and those who breastfeed their babies. This research indicates that breastfeeding women who have had mastitis due to infection in the milk ducts are still less likely to develop breast cancer compared to women who haven’t had a pregnancy or who haven’t breastfed their babies.

Can Breast Cancer and Mastitis Coexist?

A woman may develop both breast cancer and mastitis simultaneously. Sometimes breast cancer may be diagnosed soon after mastitis. This may lead them to believe that both of them are correlated. However, research has indicated that this is only a coincidence. The treatment of mastitis and breast cancer is very different from each other. While mastitis can be treated with administration of progesterone and antibiotics, breast cancer requires more aggressive treatment with chemotherapy, radiation therapy and cancer medications. It has been seen, however, that breast cancer may respond favorably to the treatment of mastitis, but this may not always happen as a rule.


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