What is Duct Ectasia: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, Surgery

What is Duct Ectasia?

Duct Ectasia is a condition of the breasts in which the mammary glands ducts widen. The breasts or mammary glands are composed of lobules which make milk and ducts which transfer or transport that milk to the nipples. Ducts ectasia occurs when those ducts widen and shorten which can cause the build-up of fluids and other substances in the widened ducts. When this occurs the resulting condition is said to be Duct ectasia.

Duct ectasia is a condition which is associated with increased age and is a benign condition. Sometimes a secretion is also produced which gets accumulated in the widened ducts which leads to a discharge and can become infected. This can sometimes cause pain, redness and soreness.

What is Duct Ectasia?

Other Names for Duct Ectasia

This condition is widely known as Duct ectasia of the breast but is also called Mammary Duct Ectasia. Other alternative names for duct ectasia include Comedomastitis and Periductal mastitis even though periductal mastitis is generally considered a separate condition nowadays. Duct ectasia is also called Plasma Cell Mastitis due to the infiltration of the plasma cells into the duct fluid. A more advanced condition of duct ectasia is called Mastitis Obliterans when the ducts get obliterated.

Causes of Duct Ectasia

Duct ectasia can be caused due to any of the following reasons:

Increasing Age- Most Common Cause Of Duct Ectasia

As you age, a process known as involution occurs in the breasts, which means increase of the fatty tissue in the breasts which are mostly glandular in the young age. These changes can sometimes cause various changes in the breast structure which can lead to duct ectasia.

Duct Ectasia Caused Due to Nipple Inversion

Nipple retraction or nipple inversion can also cause duct ectasia. This inversion of nipple can cause blockage of the breast ducts which usually leads to duct ectasia.

Smoking- A Probable Cause of Duct Ectasia

It is believed that duct ectasia more commonly occurs in smokers than non-smokers, even though there is not ample proof to validate this concept. But it is said that smoking possibly causes widening of ducts which is the primary stage of duct ectasia.

Symptoms of Duct Ectasia

Duct ectasia usually doesn’t produce any visible symptoms and is diagnosed when the person suffering from duct ectasia gets a diagnosis for some other disease or disorder of the breasts. But there may be some symptoms which, if the patient pays attention, can lead to an early diagnosis of the disorder. Some of them are as follows:

  • A lump or thickening seen on the breasts due to the scarring or clogging of the ducts can be an indicator of duct ectasia.
  • Redness in the breasts can also indicate duct ectasia especially around the nipple region.
  • Soreness of breasts can also indicate duct ectasia especially if it is in the areolar region (the dark part around nipple).
  • An inverted nipple which is a nipple that is turned inward can also indicate duct ectasia.
  • Duct ectasia can also cause a sticky greenish or blackish discharge from the breasts which is usually thick but can also be thin sometimes. It can sometimes also be dirty white.

Diagnosis of Duct Ectasia

As mentioned earlier, duct ectasia is rarely diagnosed on its own. More often than not, it is diagnosed due to the diagnosis of the breasts for some other disease. But if the patient suffers any of the above symptoms and goes to a doctor, then the doctor usually uses the following diagnostic procedures:

  • The doctor can order an ultrasound to detect the presence of widened ducts which occur in duct ectasia.
  • A mammogram can also be ordered by the doctor which is basically an X-ray of the breasts to diagnose duct ectasia.
  • If there is a lump, a biopsy is done by the doctor to make sure that it is not cancer. In a biopsy a hollow needle is used to extract a small piece of a tissue to be examined by a doctor.

Treatment of Duct Ectasia

Duct ectasia is one of those disorders that usually clear up without any treatment. But some of these treatments can also be prescribed by the doctors:

  • Use of warm compresses can give relief in pain that sometimes occurs in duct ectasia.
  • Use of antibiotics can help in curing the infection that occurs in duct ectasia.
  • Paracetamol or some other pain medication may also be prescribed by the doctors to treat pain associated with Duct Ectasia. Pain is not actually a common symptom of duct ectasia but it can be experienced by some patients.
  • If the nipples keep on secreting sticky discharge in duct ectasia and don’t let up, then surgery can also be done by the doctors.
  • If the discharge occurs, you shouldn’t squeeze the nipples as it can lead to further secretion.

Surgical Procedures to Cure Duct Ectasia

If duct ectasia is not getting cured by itself, the doctor may ask to do surgery. The patient will not need to stay in the hospital for very long, may be a day or two. Only a general anesthesia is administered during surgery for duct ectasia. After surgery you will have a small scar near your areola, which will fade in time. The surgery can be of two types:


This is a surgical process to cure duct ectasia by removing only those ducts of the mammary glands or breasts which have blockage or are widened leading to fluid accumulation. The removal of only select few problematic ducts is termed microdochectomy.

Duct Excision

Duct excision is a term that refers to the removal of all the major ducts in breasts or mammary glands. This procedure is done not only to cure duct ectasia but also to eliminate the possibility of a further occurrence of the same symptoms.

Does Duct Ectasia Increase Breast Cancer Risk?

Duct ectasia is in no way related to breast cancer, nor does it increase the risk of breast cancer. Duct ectasia is a disorder mostly related to increasing age while cancer is caused by the mutation of the cells leading to unchecked cell division.

All in all, you do not need to worry if you have duct ectasia. If you take some precautions as well as certain medications, chances are it will clear up after a while.

Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:February 8, 2018

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