Finding a lump in your breast can be extremely nerve-wracking. If you find a moveable lump in your breast while breastfeeding, the lump may be a galactocele – a cyst in your breast that is filled with milk. Here is what you need to know about galactoceles.
What is a galactocele?
A galactocele is a cyst in the breast that is filled with milk. They occur (pretty rarely) in women who are pregnant, lactating, or have recently been lactating.
How can I tell if I have one? Galactocele vs plugged duct
If you are lactating and you notice a smooth, moveable lump in your breast, you might have a galactocele. They 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). The pain is caused by the surrounding tissue being stretched.
One difference between a galactocele and a clogged duct is that galactoceles are often much larger. They can be from 1 to 6 cm in diameter. A golf ball sized lump in your breast is far more likely to be a galactocele than a clogged milk duct.
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 of course it’s not a small one) is your discomfort.
How is a galactocele treated? Will it go away on its own?
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 an untreated 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 them.
Can you have a galactocele in your armpit?
It’s possible for you to have breast tissue in your underarm, and so you can get galactoceles there. Here is a case study of one.
Is there any way that I can prevent it 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 (this obviously isn’t something I would recommend, but you can see if decreasing fluid intake a bit – not to the degree that you become dehydrated – helps keep the size under control)
Have you had a galactocele? It would be great if you could comment and tell us about your experience!References
- Moose & Doc Breast Cancer. “Galactocele of the Breast.” https://breast-cancer.ca/miscellaneous-breast-lesions/galactocele.htm
- American Journal of Surgery. “Galactocele of the Breast.” https://www.americanjournalofsurgery.com/article/0002-9610(64)90352-6/abstract