Mammary Duct Ectasia

What is Mammary Duct Ectasia?

Mammary Duct Ectasia is a condition that primarily affects women around 40 to 50 that are beginning the first stages of menopause. It causes the milk ducts of the breasts to become swollen, thickened in the walls, and clogged.

While it can interfere with the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer, it is a benign condition. The condition is primarily caused by age, but smoking can increase the chances of developing it.

What are the Symptoms of Mammary Duct Ectasia?

Detecting a case of mammary duct ectasia in oneself can be very frightening because some of the signs mimic the symptoms of breast cancer.

Symptoms include

  • Discharge from the nipples that is off-white, gray, green, or black
  • A distinct lump or mass felt behind the areola
  • Inverted nipples in a person who does not usually have inversion
  • Tenderness in the breast and nipple
  • Swelling or redness around the nipple

Mammary Duct Ectasia Causes

The human breasts are composed of connective tissues, including a complex network of intertwining milk ducts, essentially tiny passages made for carrying milk out to the nipples to feed infants and babies. Mammary duct ectasia happens when one of these many milk ducts underneath the nipple broadens after it is blocked or possibly clogged with some sort of sticky substance, becoming inflamed as a result.

Physicians and researchers are not sure exactly what sort of blockage leads to mammary duct ectasia, but some speculate it is associated with the following:

  • Changes in breast tissue due to aging, as the composition of human breast tissue shifts from being mostly glandular to being mostly composed of fatty tissue in a process doctors call involution. These natural changes in breast tissue can occasionally lead to the development of blocked milk ducts and the ensuing inflammation that is a consequence of mammary duct ectasia.
  • Smoking has a potential association with the broadening of milk ducts, which can cause substantial inflammation and, on occasion, lead to mammary duct ectasia.
  • Nipple inversion and recently inverted nipples can often obstruct milk ducts, creating an environment suitable for inflammation and infection. A nipple that has been recently inverted can also be a sign of the development of adverse health conditions like cancer.

How is Mammary Duct Ectasia Treated?

For short-term cases, most women can wait out the condition and resolve the symptoms without seeking treatment. Applying heat to the breast and nipple can reduce pain and speed up recovery. Benign cases usually clear up within a week or two.

If pain and discharge persists longer or returns regularly, your doctor may recommend a simple surgery to remove the affected ducts. This can end the cycle of mammary duct ectasia without putting you at significant risk for other problems. Unlike the duct infections that can affect younger women, infections are rarely needed for this form of duct ectasia.

Antibiotics may be prescribed to prevent a secondary infection from complicating your healing process after surgery.

Mammary Duct Ectasia Prevention

To prevent mammary duct ectasia, women are advised to regularly have their breasts checked, as early detection of this condition can lead to the correct diagnosis and preventive medical treatment. It is important to pay close attention to your breast hygiene, cleaning them frequently to prevent infection and inflammation. Women who are lactating must take special care in both cleaning their breasts and managing breast feeding. It is advisable to choose comfortable, clean underwear to reduce the chances of disease or infection.

Last Reviewed:
October 10, 2016
Last Updated:
March 02, 2018