Breast cellulitis is an infection in the layers of skin covering the breast. It is typically painful and can appear red and swollen. Left untreated, there is a potential for serious complications, like widespread tissue death in the breast and a spread of infection to other areas of the body. People with this condition will be given antibiotics to kill the organisms and may in some cases need surgery to remove dead and severely infected tissue.
People can develop breast cellulitis for a variety of reasons. A break in the skin caused by an insect bite, surgery, or accidental scratch can be a likely culprit. This allows microorganisms to slip past the defenses of the skin, establishing a colony inside the skin. They can also penetrate to the layers of connective tissue directly below the skin. If the immune system fails to detect the fight the incursion in time, breast cellulitis can develop.
Patients with breast cellulitis will notice aching and tenderness, followed by the appearance of redness. The breast tissue may swell and it usually hurts on contact. The area around the break in the skin can leak pus and other fluids. Immediate treatment for breast cellulitis involves administering antibiotics. The patient may also be advised to rest and drink plenty of fluids to support immune health. If these measures are not effective, more invasive treatments may be needed.
In surgery, a doctor can open up the breast to clean and debride it. This process will include flushing out pus and other fluids, cutting away clearly dead tissue, and setting up drains to allow the infection to drain while it heals. In some cases, severe breast cellulitis may result in the need to remove a lot of tissue. The patient may require reconstructive surgery after the infection is completely healed to rebuild the breast. These cases are rare, and primarily occur when people fail to seek treatment until the infection is quite advanced.
Some people develop recurrent skin infections like cellulitis, for a variety of reasons. If this is a concern, a doctor may recommend some hygiene measures to reduce the risk of infection, and patients can also be provided with a standing order for antibiotics to treat infections as soon as they start to develop. During an active infection, it is important to wear clean, breathable clothing and keep the breast as clean and dry as possible.
Who Is at Risk for Developing Breast Cellulitis?
Although breast cellulitis can happen to anyone, it is most common in women. Women with large breasts, women who are overweight, and women who had recently undergone breast cancer radiation are at a higher risk of developing breast cellulitis.
Breast cellulitis is also prevalent in female athletes. The high level of activity, combined with sweaty skin that develops underneath the breast, creates the perfect environment for breast cellulitis.
Breast Cancer Patients and Breast Cellulitis
Breast cellulitis is what doctors would call an “opportunistic infection.” An opportunistic infection is spread when a person’s immune system is weak. It is caused by an organism that wouldn’t usually cause an infection if the body was working correctly.
Breast cancer patients and people who have recently undergone treatments for breast cancer are prime candidates for an infection such as this. This is because their white blood cell count is typically low from radiation treatments and therapies.
Also, if the patient had to have any part of their breast removed, it would disrupt the lymphatic system as well. The lymphatic system plays a significant role in the immune system. Disrupting the normal flow of things within this system would cause an increased risk of developing a condition such as breast cellulitis.
What Can I Do to Prevent Breast Cellulitis?
Breast cellulitis is not a fun condition to experience, so prevention is essential. You can take specific measures to try and keep the area around and underneath your breast clean and free from sweat and dead skin, which is one way to prevent the condition from occurring.
Another tip for preventing breast cellulitis is to wear appropriate clothing. Fabrics that are loose and soft and won’t cause chafing are the best options. Also, wear a fitted sports bra if you intend to exercise or engage in a high-impact activity.
Ultimately, to be at lower risk for developing breast cellulitis, the most effective preventative measure is to do your best to lose the excess fat in and around your breast area. Overall, weight loss is the best prevention for breast cellulitis.
What Are the Most Common Symptoms of Breast Cellulitis?
When you develop breast cellulitis, you will likely know from the pain and discomfort. Still, there are many other symptoms involved with breast cellulitis that doctors may be looking for.
The most common symptoms of breast cellulitis include:
- Pain and swelling
- Skin warmth
- Pus and scab-like skin patches
These symptoms are most common in someone experiencing mild breast cellulitis. Signs that the breast cellulitis has gotten more severe include:
- Fever and chills
- Leukocytosis (an increase in white blood cells)
If you feel your breast cellulitis has reached a more serious stage, please contact your doctor immediately. Untreated breast cellulitis is severe and can cause the infection to spread to other areas of the body.
What Are Some Common Treatments for Breast Cellulitis?
The most common treatment for breast cellulitis is antibiotics; however, extensive treatments may be necessary in some more severe cases.
If an abscess forms, you will need to have a doctor drain the pus and fluid from the breast tissue in order to prevent further infection. The process of draining an abscess may sound daunting, but it is simple and will provide relief quickly.
If breast cellulitis continues to reoccur, doctors will want to take a breast tissue biopsy to be sure cancer hasn’t developed or re-developed in patients with a history of breast cancer.
Antibiotics and Breast Cellulitis
Antibiotics are the first defense against breast cellulitis. The most commonly prescribed antibiotics for patients who have developed breast cellulitis include: Cefazolin, Cefuroxime, Nafcillon, and oxacillin. Patients that are allergic to penicillin would need an alternative anti-microbial medicine. Some of which might consist of Vancomycin or Clindamycin.
It’s important to understand that even with treatment, breast cellulitis may take a while to completely clear up and for the skin to return to its normal state. Antibiotics will take up to 2-4 days for symptoms to start to improve and could take up to a week to entirely subside.
Call your doctor immediately if you have been taking the prescribed antibiotics for more than a week and still do not see any signs of recovery. As mentioned earlier, if left untreated, breast cellulitis can and will spread rather quickly.