Last week, someone emailed me with the following question:
I just had a cyst aspirated and found out I had a galactocele. It wasn’t an issue until it became large and uncomfortable. Is there anything I can do to prevent it from coming back?
I had never actually heard of a galactocele before, so I did some research and found out that they are lumps in the breast that can appear in breastfeeding women (or women who have recently weaned). Here is what I learned, and what you might need to know if you discover a lump in your breast.
What is a galactocele?
How can I tell if I have one?
If you are lactating and you notice a smooth, moveable lump in your breast, you might have a galactocele. Galactoceles are sometimes mistaken for clogged ducts or for breast cancer (since both of these also have lumps as the first symptom). They may or may not be painful, and they often change size (sometimes filling up, sometimes getting smaller). One difference between a galactocele and a clogged duct, though, is that galactoceles are often much larger (they can be as large as a kiwi).
Galactoceles have to be diagnosed by a doctor. Because galactoceles and breast cancer both present with smooth and moveable lumps, doctors will generally refer women who have them for a breast cancer screening. In most cases, you will get an ultrasound and a biopsy to evaluate the lump; however, sometimes a mammogram is the first step.
One important thing to note is that galactoceles are not dangerous and have no relationship to breast cancer. The main issue with them (and it’s not a small one) is your discomfort.
How is a galactocele treated?
If they aren’t painful, the standard treatment is the same as it is for a cyst: just leaving them alone. If they are painful, they can be drained via fine needle aspiration (though unfortunately, they sometimes fill up again).
Most of the time, your body will reabsorb the galactocele when you are done breastfeeding. If for whatever reason it doesn’t, the milk duct can be removed surgically.
Ibuprofen and warm showers can help treat the pain associated with the galactocele.
Is there any way that I can prevent the galactocele from coming back?
Unfortunately, there is no definitive way to do this. If the milk is aspirated, it can fill right back up again. There are a few things that you can try:
- Weaning from the affected breast (and continuing to pump from the breast without the galactocele).
- Taking a lecithin supplement to decrease the stickiness of your milk.
- Surgical removal of the milk duct (before or after weaning from breastfeeding).
- Several women stated that their galactocele was significantly reduced when they got the flu and became dehydrated (Normally, I would not recommend trying to get the flu, but you gotta do what you gotta do).
(I would encourage anyone who thinks that they may have a galactocele to read this first-hand account of someone who had one, along with her update, and this scientific explanation of how they are diagnosed. This Baby Center thread also has a bunch of first-hand experiences with them.)
Have you had a galactocele? It would be great if you could comment and tell us about your experience!