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A galactocele is a rather rare type of breast cyst. It is usually called a "milk-filled cyst" and may occur if the milk ducts get plugged. Size of galactoceles can vary, and they may end up being several inches in diameter, though they can also be much smaller. Treatment of these cysts varies and isn’t always necessary for recovery.
In the breast, the galactocele may feel somewhat curved in shape. It usually doesn’t hurt to feel it, and because the cyst is fluid filled, the walls of the cyst give if pressure is applied to them. These cysts are most commonly associated with post-pregnancy, and more often with breastfeeding.
Often they occur near the end of or at the end of breastfeeding. A woman who chooses not to nurse but is producing milk is most likely to get a galactocele a few weeks after a baby is born. Those women who do nurse infants might be more prone to get them when feedings are reduced in number, which can give the milk time to collect. Of course, sometimes these cysts aren’t noticed until several months after they occur.
On rare occasions, a galactocele may be present in the male breast, even in very young infants. A 1990s report in the journal Fetal and Pediatric Pathology presents a study of an eleven month old boy with an enlarged breast due to the presence of one of these cysts. Though the condition is most often associated with breastfeeding, the journal cites that galactoceles are a common cause of breast enlargement in males.
The fortunate news about a galactocele is that most are imminently treatable, and not cancerous. To determine the precise nature of the lump, a needle biopsy may be performed, and this usually reveals a milky white fluid. It’s usually not necessary to surgically remove the cyst or to treat it in any way, unless it is enlarging and creating problems. In these cases, doctors generally use needle aspiration, where they insert a needle directly into the cyst through the breast and drain the fluid from the cyst. This is typically an outpatient procedure.
It is possible for a cyst to get infected, and this might be the one instance in which doctors would prefer to use surgical removal. Chances of requiring surgery for a galactocele are not high. However, patients should discuss this with their doctors if surgery is likely or if they are worried about requiring it. It’s important to note that these cysts may resolve without any treatment.
Another potential concern is whether it is okay to breastfeed when one of these cysts is present. Doctors conclude that it’s not only safe, but also possibly beneficial, since eliminating milk from the breast may help resolve the cyst sooner. It poses no risk to the nursing child and may prevent cyst recurrence.
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