Nipple or Subareolar Abscess - Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

The female body.

What Is a Nipple or Subareolar Abscess?

A nipple or a subareolar abscess is a growth that is located on your nipple or right beneath your areola. An abscess is a pocket of pus that presses on nearby tissue and is accompanied by swelling and inflammation. A nipple or a subareolar abscess may cause pain, a small tender lump, and drainage of pus.

Is a Nipple or Subareolar Abscess Breast Cancer?

Any painful lump under your nipple or areola should be checked by your doctor.

If you are breastfeeding, abscesses can be common and generally can be considered as non-cancerous. However, if you are not breastfeeding, it has a potential to be a rare form of breast cancer. It may be a benign condition, but it could still need treatment. See your doctor if you have any symptoms and get them checked so you can be sure.

Other Terms for a Subareolar Abscess

A subareolar abscess can also be referred to as an areolar gland abscess, Zuska's disease, or lactiferous fistula.


You might not develop all of these symptoms, but these are common for a nipple or a subareolar abscess. They are a good reason to see your doctor and to get a full diagnosis and treatment:

  • swollen and tender area of tissue on nipple or areola
  • pus or discharge emerging from the swollen tissue
  • fever
  • a general feeling of illness, similar to flu-like symptoms

Mastitis vs. Subareolar Abscesses

Mastitis and other breast abscesses are infections that are caused when bacteria get inside your breast skin.

Mastitis is a breast abscess that occurs in women who are breastfeeding when a milk duct gets plugged.

A nipple or a subareolar abscess occurs in young to middle-aged women who are not breastfeeding and involves nipple tissue or areolar glands. In women who are not breastfeeding, the most common risk factors are diabetes, nipple piercing, and smoking.


Areolar glands may become blocked, allowing bacteria that have found their way in, to multiply. Your immune system goes into action to fight the infection, sending white blood cells into the blocked-up areas. When those blood cells, dead tissue, and bacteria stew together in the abscess pocket, pus forms.

If you have your nipple pierced, and infection sets in, bacteria can get through the skin and cause a subareolar abscess.


If you think your symptoms match those of a nipple or a subareolar abscess, see your doctor. You will have a visual examination, which may include a clinical breast exam and an ultrasound of the inflamed area.


To clear up the infection within an abscess, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics. Be sure to take these as instructed. If you quit taking the medicine just when symptoms subside, it is possible to have a relapse. In some cases, your doctor may want to open and drain the abscess to promote healing. If the problem is quite bothersome, you may need to have the abscess and the related glands surgically removed.


Breast infection. Medline Plus, National Institutes of Health. Updated: 11/16/2014.

Mycobacterium Fortuitum and Anaerobic Breast Abscess Following Nipple Piercing: Case Presentation and Review of the Literature. Victoria Bengualid, M.D., Veera Singh, M.D., Herpreet Singh, M.D., Judith Berger, M.D. Journal of Adolescent Health, Volume 42, Issue 5, Pages 530-532 (May 2008).

Subareolar abscess. Medline Plus, National Institutes of Health. Updated: 11/16/2014.

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