Mammary duct ectasia is a breast condition that affects people approaching menopause. For many with this condition, mammary duct ectasia resolves without any treatment.
Mammary duct ectasia (or duct ectasia) is a noncancerous breast condition causing inflammation (swelling) and thickening of your milk ducts. Your breasts are made up of lobules (glands that make milk), ducts (tubes that carry milk to your nipple) and other tissues. As you age, your milk ducts shorten and widen. This causes your breasts to become sore or for fluid to build up and clog your duct. Most people recover without treatment, but if symptoms don’t go away, your healthcare provider may prescribe antibiotics or remove the affected duct with surgery.
Anyone assigned female at birth (AFAB) can have mammary duct ectasia. The condition is more common among women and people AFAB who are approaching menopause (around age 50 or older). It can also occur after menopause. Duct ectasia can happen in men and people assigned male at birth (AMAB), but this is rare.
No, it’s noncancerous (benign) and doesn’t increase your risk for developing breast cancer. However, some symptoms of duct ectasia are associated with symptoms of breast cancer. It’s a good idea to discuss any changes in your breasts with your healthcare provider.
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Mammary duct ectasia results from inflammation (swelling). This inflammation causes a milk duct within your breast to widen and thicken. As inflammation worsens, milk ducts become blocked, and fluid builds up behind the blockage. It’s common for milk ducts and breast tissue to change as a person reaches the age of menopause, although it can happen before or after menopause.
While the exact cause of this inflammation is unknown, researchers think that bacterial infection of the milk ducts make it more likely for a person to develop mammary duct ectasia. Smoking cigarettes may be associated with duct ectasia.
Some people have no symptoms of duct ectasia. In those who do, the most common symptoms are:
Mammary duct ectasia may cause lumps to form in your breast just behind your nipple. Lumps develop because of scar tissue that forms around inflamed milk ducts. The lump may be confused with breast cancer, but it isn’t cancer.
Not everyone experiences nipple or breast pain from mammary duct ectasia — it’s rare to have pain. More common symptoms that you may feel are tenderness, soreness or a lump behind your nipple.
Some people with mammary duct ectasia have a thick, gooey nipple discharge. This isn’t always the case. Others notice a red spot or a change in their nipple (like their nipple turns suddenly turning inward).
Your healthcare provider diagnose mammary duct ectasia in a few ways:
Yes, a mammogram (breast X-ray) is one way healthcare providers test for mammary duct ectasia.
Mammary duct ectasia often resolves on its own with no treatment. Some people find relief by simply applying warm compresses to the affected breast several times a day.
Other things you can do to help manage symptoms include:
If a bacterial infection causes your condition, your provider will prescribe antibiotic medications. Some people find relief from inflammation and discomfort with over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers like ibuprofen.
If a milk duct remains blocked or leaks discharge despite treatment, your provider can remove the inflamed duct (or ducts) surgically.
Surgery to remove the affected duct or ducts involves a surgeon making an incision (a cut) along the edge of your areola (the colored skin around your nipple) to remove the abnormal duct or ducts. They’ll use stitches to close the incision, which may leave a tiny scar.
If left untreated, a bacterial infection in your milk duct may cause more widespread infection and tissue damage. This could lead to a condition called mastitis. Contact your healthcare provider if you notice signs of infection such as fever or chills.
Yes. For some people, mammary duct ectasia goes away without treatment or with at-home treatment like a warm compress.
There’s no way to prevent mammary duct ectasia. Some research suggests certain lifestyle factors may increase your likelihood of developing this condition. These factors include:
Most people recover from mammary duct ectasia without treatment. If you require medical treatment, your recovery should be uncomplicated. Surgery is rarely needed.
If you think you may have mammary duct ectasia, you may have many questions, including:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Mammary duct ectasia is a condition that causes your milk ducts to become inflamed and thick. While it can cause uncomfortable symptoms, it rarely becomes serious or requires surgery. Most find relief with pain relievers, antibiotics or at-home treatments like applying warm compresses. It’s common to mistake symptoms of duct ectasia like nipple discharge and lumps for breast cancer. Talk to your healthcare provider about any changes in your breasts to ensure you’re not dealing with a potential cancer diagnosis.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/30/2023.
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