Breast cellulitis is a bacterial skin infection on the breast. Symptoms can include inflammation, a rash, and warmth. Antibiotics are the main treatment for breast cellulitis.

It is possible for breast cellulitis to spread to other parts of the body. To reduce the risk of this, and the development of abscesses in severe cases, it is important to seek urgent medical advice as soon as there are concerns about breast cellulitis.

Read on to learn more about the symptoms and causes of breast cellulitis. This article also discusses how doctors diagnose the condition, treatment options, and more.

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When breast cellulitis develops, a person will often notice an inflamed rash around the bottom of their breast that feels warm to the touch. The rash may appear red or pink on lighter skin tones, or purple, brown, or another dark color on darker skin tones. The rash can spread quickly to other areas of the body.

In severe cases, a person may develop a breast abscess. Abscesses are areas where pus collects. If these form, a doctor will typically need to drain the abscess.

A person may also develop flu-like symptoms, such as chills and fever.

Learn more about abscesses.

The underlying cause of breast cellulitis is an overgrowth of bacteria. The most common bacteria include Streptococcus pyogenes and Staphylococcus aureus.

People may develop cellulitis due to other strains of bacteria if they:

Risk factors for breast cellulitis include:

  • larger breast size
  • having overweight
  • history of breast surgeries or radiation

Living with atopic dermatitis can also increase a person’s risk of developing breast cellulitis due to increased Staphylococcus aureus colonization.

Learn more about bacterial skin infections.

To reach an accurate diagnosis, a doctor may begin by taking a full medical history and asking questions about symptoms.

They will also examine the area and look for the presence of at least two out of four clinical signs. These are:

  • tenderness
  • inflammation or swelling
  • erythema (discoloration)
  • warmth

Specific tests are typically not necessary for diagnosing breast cellulitis. However, if the condition persists, a doctor may order tests such as:

These tests can help to rule out other possible causes.

A doctor will typically prescribe antibiotics for treating the streptococcal species of bacteria. Cephalexin or clindamycin often work well against these species. Most antibiotic regimes will last a minimum of 5 days.

If an abscess develops, the doctor may recommend either draining the pus by making an incision or using a needle to aspirate (draw out) the infection.

If the condition shows no improvements with antibiotics or a person develops signs of systemic infection, a person may need additional antibiotics. In severe cases, a person may need hospitalization.

Without treatment, breast cellulitis can lead to bacteria getting into the bloodstream. This can lead to potentially life threatening complications, such as sepsis.

When the bacteria enter the blood, it can also cause a heart condition called endocarditis. This is an infection that attacks the lining of the heart.

Seeking medical treatment as soon as there are concerns about breast cellulitis can help reduce the risk of complications.

A person may not be able to prevent all cases of breast cellulitis from occurring, but they can take steps to help reduce the risk. These include:

  • wearing a cotton bra or a cotton T-shirt under a bra
  • keeping the area clean and dry
  • thoroughly washing and drying the area at least twice each day
  • not using lotions, talcum powders, or creams in areas prone to the infection

People with larger breasts may find relief from frequent breast cellulitis through breast reduction surgery. A doctor can advise whether they recommend breast reduction surgery and provide other tips for reducing the risk of breast cellulitis.

The following sections provide answers to some frequently asked questions about breast cellulitis.

How serious is cellulitis of the breast?

Breast cellulitis is an infection of the skin around or on the breast. Without treatment, it can quickly spread and lead to potentially life threatening complications. A person should contact a doctor if they develop a rash on their breast or any other symptoms of cellulitis.

Why do I have cellulitis on my breast?

Cellulitis develops due to an overgrowth of bacteria. If it occurs on the breast, it may be due to recent surgery or radiation therapy.

Having a larger breast size, having overweight, or living with other underlying conditions such as atopic dermatitis can increase a person’s risk.

How long does cellulitis in the breast last?

Cellulitis is a fast-spreading infection. Without treatment, it may continue to develop and can lead to potentially life threatening complications. Treatment involves an antibiotic regime that typically lasts at least 5 days, though severe infections may take longer to clear.

Breast cellulitis is a bacterial skin infection that can occur on or under the breast. It is fast spreading and requires antibiotics to treat and help prevent complications from occurring.

People at higher risk include those who have had breast surgery or radiation, people who have overweight, or those with a larger breast size. People with other underlying conditions, such as atopic dermatitis, may also have a higher risk of developing the condition.

It is best to contact a doctor as soon as a person experiences symptoms of breast cellulitis. They can often diagnose the condition based on symptoms, including skin discoloration, swelling, warmth, and tenderness.