An abscess is a mass containing infected fluid (pus) that forms because of an infection or foreign material in the body. Abscesses can be painful, and are typically tender to touch and pink or red in color. They can form just beneath the skin or internally, such as in the folds of the bowel. Common sites for abscesses include around a hair follicle (a boil), around a tooth (a dental abscess), in the armpits, around the anus or vagina, in the groin and at the base of the spine.
Cancer patients may be at risk for abscesses, particularly if they have leukemia and/or they receive chemotherapy. In general, people who have weakened immune systems are prone to develop abscesses because their bodies struggle to ward off infection. Other risk factors for abscesses include:
- Chronic steroid therapy
- Sickle cell disease
- Peripheral vascular disorders
- Crohn's disease
- Ulcerative colitis
- IV drug abuse
- Severe burns
- Severe trauma
- Poor circulation
- Bad hygiene
- Exposure to certain skin infections
The method used to drain an abscess and collect its fluid depends on the size, severity and location of the abscess. Whenever possible, our Interventional Radiology team performs percutaneous abscess drainage. They use a fine needle to perforate and drain an abscess. Patients first receive a local anesthesia to numb the area of the abscess. The interventional radiologist then inserts the needle through the skin and uses CT or ultrasound to guide the needle to the site of the abscess. Typically, a catheter is inserted and is used to draw out the fluid. The catheter is connected to a bag, which the fluid drains into and collects. It may take several hours for the abscess to drain. If necessary, the catheter and collection bag can stay in place for weeks or months to allow the abscess to fully drain.
If an internal abscess is too large to be drained with a needle, surgery may be performed to drain the abscess.
Both methods of draining an abscess provide pain relief and help the abscess heal.