Do acute-care surgeons follow best practices for breast abscess management? A single-institution analysis of 325 consecutive cases

Alison Unzeitig Barron, Stephen Luk, Herb A. Phelan, Brian H. Williams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Background The breast surgery community has adopted needle aspiration as the standard of care for breast abscesses, which have a size less than 5 cm on ultrasound, no skin changes, and fewer than 5 days of symptoms. Our acute-care surgery (ACS) service manages all breast abscess consults at our urban safety-net hospital. We undertook this descriptive study to identify the rate of operative incisions and drainage performed by ACS surgeons which were not compatible with best practices for breast abscess management. Methods We performed a retrospective review of the electronic health records of all patients on whom the ACS service was consulted for a breast abscess at our urban safety-net hospital between January 2010 and December 2014. We collected data on patient demographics, breast skin characteristics, length of symptoms, ultrasound results, and treatment modality. Results A total of 325 patients with breast abscesses were evaluated by ACS, of whom 21 met the breast community's indications for needle aspiration. Of the overall 325 subject sample, 281 (86.5%) underwent incision and drainage (I&D), and 44 (13.5%) underwent bedside needle aspiration. Of the 281 patients that underwent I&D, 269 (95.7%) met the breast surgery community's indications for I&D due to either skin changes (n = 90, 33.5%), abscess >5 cm on ultrasound (n = 88, 32.7%), or symptoms >5 days (n = 238, 88.5%). Of the 44 patients that underwent needle aspiration, only 9 (20.5%) met the current practice indications for aspiration. Of the 44 patients that underwent aspiration, 28 (63.6%) failed and went on to have an operation. The majority of these failed aspirations had symptoms >5 days (23 patients, 82.1%) or had skin changes at presentation (1 patient, 3.6%) or an abscess >5 cm on ultrasound (5 patients, 17.9%). Conclusions As judged by best practices promulgated by the breast surgery community, ACS surgeons do not show excessive rates of operative I&D of breast abscess and in fact seem to overutilize needle aspiration. To our knowledge, this is the largest single institution series of the management of breast abscesses by ACS surgeons in the literature.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)169-171
Number of pages3
JournalJournal of Surgical Research
StatePublished - Aug 2017


  • Breast abscess
  • Incision and drainage of abscess
  • Needle aspiration of abscess

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery


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