Mammary duct ectasia is a condition where the ducts that carry milk beneath the nipple become wider and may fill up with fluid. The walls of the ducts may thicken and they may also get clogged with a thick substance. While some women may not experience any symptoms, others may experience breast tenderness, nipple discharge or inflammation of the clogged duct (periductal mastitis). Although mammary duct ectasia can occur in anyone, it is more common in women between the ages of 45 and 55, particularly during perimenopause. However, this condition can also develop in women beyond menopause and in individuals of any age or gender.
It is possible for the condition to get better on its own without any medical treatment. However, if the symptoms continue to persist, antibiotics may be necessary, or surgery might be required to eliminate the affected milk duct. It’s common to be concerned about any changes in your breasts, but having mammary duct ectasia or periductal mastitis does not increase your risk of breast cancer.
Mammary duct ectasia may be asymptomatic; however, certain individuals may exhibit the following signs and symptoms:
- A discharge from one or both nipples that is dirty white, greenish, or black.
- Tenderness around the areola or in the nipple
- The nipple and areolar tissue appear red
- A lump or thickening in the breast located close to the obstructed duct.
- An inward turned nipple (inverted)
Mammary duct ectasia can lead to a bacterial infection known as mastitis, which can result in breast tenderness, inflammation around the areola, and fever.
Symptoms of mammary glands may improve on their own.
If you detect any changes in your breasts that are persistent or disturb you, such as a new breast lump, spontaneous nipple discharge, skin redness or inflammation, or an inverted nipple, schedule an appointment with your doctor.
The connective tissues that make up your breasts contains a network of small passageways (milk ducts) that transport milk to the nipples. Mammary duct ectasia is a condition where a milk duct beneath the nipple expands and thickens. It may also become blocked due to the accumulation of a sticky substance and eventually get filled with fluid. This can lead to inflammation.
The exact cause of mammary duct ectasia is not known. However, some experts suggest that it may be related to:
- Changes in breast tissue as you age. As you become older, a process known as involution causes your breast tissue’s composition to shift from being largely glandular to being mostly fatty. These typical breast alterations can occasionally cause a blocked milk duct and the mammary duct ectasia-related irritation.
- Smoking. Smoking cigarettes may cause milk ducts to enlarge, which may cause irritation and, in certain cases, mammary duct ectasia.
- Inverted nipples. It’s possible for a newly inverted nipple to impede milk ducts, leading to infection and irritation. A newly inverted nipple may potentially be an indication of a more serious underlying illness, including malignancy.