Get answers to your Breast Cancer questions.
Normal breast tissue is present in both males and females of all ages. This tissue responds to hormonal changes and, therefore, certain lumps can come and go.
Breast lumps may appear at all ages:
Lumps in a woman are often caused by fibrocystic changes, fibroadenomas, and cysts.
Fibrocystic changes can occur in either or both breasts. These changes are common in women (especially during the reproductive years), and are considered a normal variation of breast tissue. Having fibrocystic breasts does not increase your risk for breast cancer. It does, however, make it more difficult to interpret lumps that you or your doctor find on exam. Many women feel tenderness in addition to the lumps and bumps associated with fibrocystic breasts.
Fibroadenomas are noncancerous lumps that feel rubbery and are easily moveable within the breast tissue. Like fibrocystic changes, they occur most often during the reproductive years. Usually, they are not tender and, except in rare cases, do not become cancerous later. A doctor may feel fairly certain from an exam that a particular lump is a fibroadenoma. The only way to be sure, however, is to remove or biopsy it.
Cysts are fluid-filled sacs that often feel like soft grapes. These can sometimes be tender, especially just before your menstrual period. Cysts may be drained in the doctor's office. If the fluid removed is clear or greenish, and the lump disappears completely after it is drained, no further treatment is needed. If the fluid is bloody, it is sent to the lab to look for cancer cells. If the lump doesn't disappear, or recurs, it is usually removed surgically.
Other causes of breast lumps include:
For fibrocystic changes, birth control pills are often helpful. Other women are helped by:
Call your doctor if:
Also call if:
Your doctor will get a complete history from you, with special attention to factors that may increase your risk of breast cancer. The health care provider will perform a thorough breast examination. If you don't know how to perform breast self-examination, ask your health care provider to teach you the proper method.
Medical history questions regarding breast lumps include:
Tests that may be performed include:
Treatment of a breast lump depends on the cause. Solid breast lumps are often removed surgically. Cysts can be drained. Breast infections require antibiotics. If breast cancer is diagnosed, most women receive surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, or hormonal therapy. Discuss these options carefully and thoroughly with your doctor.
If you have a family history of breast cancer, your doctor may also suggest testing for genes that make you more likely to get breast cancer.
Breast cancer screening is an important way to find breast cancer early, when it is most easily treated and cured.
Having fibrocystic breast tissue, mastitis, or breast tenderness related to PMS does NOT put you at greater risk for breast cancer. Having fibrocystic breasts does, however, make your self-exam more confusing, because there are many normal lumps and bumps.
To prevent breast cancer:
Saslow D, Boetes C, Burke W, et al. American Cancer Society guidelines for breast screening with MRI as an adjunct to mammography. CA Cancer J Clin. 2007;57(2):75-89.
Marchant DJ. Benign breast disease. Obstet Gynecol Clin North Am. 2002;29(1):1-20.
Klein S. Evaluation of palpable breast masses. Am Fam Physician. 2005;71(9):1731-1738.
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