Identifying Breast Lumps
Only a health care professional can determine the source of a breast lump; however, you may be interested to know that the presence of a lump in the breast can result from a number of women’s health conditions aside from breast cancer.
Receiving a regular breast exam is an important step in breast cancer awareness and breast health and can help in early detection of a lump due to a number of causes.
Benign Breast Lumps
The following benign conditions are associated with the potential appearance of a breast lump. Read on to learn about the types of breast lumps that can occur, including distinguishing characteristics and the conditions with which they are associated.
Fibrocystic changes refers to an overgrowth of fibrous tissue (fibrosis) or the multiplication of cells in the breasts’ supporting tissue. This can result in the formation of small breast cysts due to blocked ducts in the breast that normally drain secretions.
Symptoms of fibrocystic changes can include the following:
- dull sensation or fullness in the upper sides of breasts
- fibrocystic areas that blend into surrounding tissue and move when pressed
- increased lumpiness and tenderness as menopause approaches
Treatment of fibrocystic changes in the breast can include the following:
- reducing caffeine intake
- wearing a more supportive bra
- over-the-counter pain reliever medications such as Advil and Tylenol
- oral contraceptives
- danazol (a synthetic testosterone hormone)
Speak to your doctor about appropriate treatment options and the potential side effects of taking any medication to treat fibrocystic changes that may cause serious discomfort in the breast.
Cysts are another type of breast lump that often appear in women approaching menopause and that are linked to hormonal fluctuations.
A breast cyst usually develops due to dilated breast ducts that create fluid-filled sacs in the breasts.
The following are characteristics of breast cysts:
- oval or round lumps that are smooth and firm
- lumps that move slightly when pressed
- breast lumps that feel hard and tender when touched
- lumps that appear within two weeks prior to your period, and then resolve soon after the period
- breast pain associated with the presence of the lumps
Treatment of breast cysts will typically involve fluid drainage by a thin needle inserted into the breast by the doctor.
Because breast cysts cannot be identified during a physical, your doctor may send the sample of fluid to a laboratory for further examination. A breast cyst that does not return six weeks after drainage will not require further treatment.
Types of breast lumps
Fibroadenomas breast masses result from an excess growth in glandular and connective tissue and is most common among women in their 20s and 30s, or those who are pregnant.
Fibroadenomas breast lumps have the following characteristics:
- round, firm, and rubbery masses
- masses that are as large as a small plum
- masses that bounce or move slightly when pressed
- masses that are painless
A mammogram and ultrasound may help with the diagnosis of this benign condition; however only a biopsy involving a sample of breast tissue and laboratory examination can determine the nature of this type of breast mass. A fibroadenomas may repair on its own, or a doctor may recommend its surgical removal.
There are two major types of breast infections, or mastitis, that typically occur.
One form of mastitis is caused by a bacterial infection that typically enters the breast tissue during breastfeeding. This condition is usually treated with antibiotics. Symptoms of this type of breast infection include the following:
- a breast lump or thickened skin that develops into an abscess
Older or postmenopausal women may develop periductal mastitis in which milk ducts become inflamed. The exact cause of this condition is unknown; however, the following are symptoms of this type of breast infection:
- inflammation of milk ducts in the dark skin surrounding the nipple (areola)
- development of breast lump
- breast pain
- nipple discharge
- nipple retraction
Mastitis that does not respond to antibiotics or is not associated with pregnancy should be evaluated for inflammatory breast cancer.
Fat Necrosis due to Trauma or Injury
Fat necrosis may develop as a result of breast trauma or breast injury due to an accident or surgery.
Your doctor may perform imaging tests such as a mammogram or ultrasound to ensure the breast lump is benign. The following are symptoms of fat necrosis:
- scar tissue in the form of a breast lump that is firm, round, or movable
- a painless breast lump if the injury is old
- breast pain or bruising of the skin if injury is recent
If the breast mass persists and does not heal on its own, your doctor may recommend surgical removal.
A phyllodes tumor is usually benign; however, in some rare cases, these breast tumors can be cancerous. This means that it is likely to receive imaging tests as well as a needle biopsy to assist in proper diagnosis of a phyllodes tumor.
These lumps develop between the connective tissue of the breasts and are usually painless. The lump should be monitored for any signs of growth and may require surgical removal. Contacting your doctor is crucial if you experience any of these unusual symptoms.
Intraductal papilloma is a small, noncancerous growth in the milk duct and usually appears as a small lump behind or near the areola.
Discharge from the nipple may also occur, and is usually bloody. Imaging tests are required to diagnose this breast condition, and treatment typically involves surgical removal followed by further analysis of the tissue for breast cancer.