Background: When a subareolar breast abscess (SBA) is incised and drained, an extraordinarily high frequency of recurrence is noted.
Methods: To develop a pathogenesis-based treatment plan, 24 women with a total of 84 abscesses were monitored.
Results: In nine women SBA was under the left areola, under the right, in 7 and in eight the SBA occurred either simultaneously or sequentially under both areolae. In 11 of 24 patients a chronic lactiferous duct fistula also existed. In four of 24 patients four SBAs were treated with antibiotics; alone; all recurred. In 16 of 24 patients initial treatment was incision and drainage plus antibiotics; all recurred. When the abscess plus the plugged lactiferous duct was excised, there were no recurrences; however, in four patients a new abscess in a different duct occurred, which was treated by en bloc resection of all subareolar ampullae, without further recurrence. Patients with a fistulous tract had the fistula, its feeding abscess, and its plugged lactiferous duct excised, without recurrence. In first time SBA the organism was usually staphylococcus; in recurrences mixed flora was isolated. Pathologic findings ranged from squamous metaplasia with keratinization of lactiferous ducts to chronic abscess.
Conclusions: The cause of SBA is plugging of lactiferous duct within the nipple by keratin. To prevent recurrence the abscessed ampulla with its plugged proximal duct needs excision.