Each breast contains a series of milk ducts, which make up a part of breast glandular tissue. These tubes run from the milk-producing breast lobules to the nipple, allowing for lactation and breastfeeding. A dilated duct occurs when the diameter of a single duct increases and fluid builds up in the space, creating a painful fluid-filled cyst, which may be accompanied by abnormal nipple discharge. Upon diagnosing a dilated breast ducts, doctors may perform a range of treatments to treat the cyst.
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The primary treatment for a dilated duct and cyst is drainage, which removes the fluid from the inside of the cyst and leads to cyst collapse. During the drainage procedure, doctors insert a fine needle through the patient's numbed skin and into the dilated duct, reports FamilyDoctor.org. The doctor then slowly removes the liquid from inside the cyst, leading to the collapse of the affected duct. Often, the doctor may perform analysis of the cyst fluid to look for the presence of abnormal cells within the cyst. Following drainage, the patient may feel some slight discomfort at the site of needle entry, which can be treated with over-the-counter pain medication.
Following cyst drainage, patients with a history of dilated ducts may require regular monitoring to assess the health of their breasts. Although dilated ducts are benign, or non-cancerous conditions, in some cases, recurrent breast lumps and duct abnormalities may be associated with a greater risk of developing breast cancer. BreastCancer.org cautions that some dilated ducts may display atypical hyperplasia -- the overgrowth of abnormal cells that may increase a patient's risk for developing breast cancer. Patients with a personal history of dilated ducts and cysts should not assume a newly discovered breast lump is a harmless cyst and should seek medical attention to treat the lump.
Patients with aggressive, recurrent dilated breast ducts may opt for a surgical removal of the affected duct to prevent the development of dilated ducts in the future and stop abnormal nipple discharge. In addition, patients whose dilated ducts contain atypical breast cells may opt for surgical duct removal to remove the potentially pre-cancerous cells. The surgery to remove a dilated duct causing abnormal discharge is a terminal duct excision, which removes the affected duct, leaving the rest of the breast tissue intact. The University of Connecticut Health Center explains that following the procedure, doctors will examine the excised duct for abnormal cells and assess the need for further treatment, though patients with benign breast conditions often require no additional therapies.