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Benign Diseases of the Breast

There are many conditions involving the breast that occur in women of all ages that are not cancer. Of course, the first thing that comes to mind when there is a problem with one or both breasts, is cancer. But not all breast lumps are cancer.

If you find something that feels different than normal during a breast self-examination, rather than panic and assume the worst, see your doctor right away.

Benign Tumors and Other Lumps

If something is found during a mammogram that requires additional testing, do not fear. There are other conditions that can show up on mammograms that are not cancer, but need to be looked at further to determine what they are. In addition, 90 percent of masses found in the breast are benign.1

Benign means that a tumor does not have the ability to invade and metastasize to other parts of the body. A benign tumors may feel firm, soft or rubbery and tend to move freely when compressed as opposed to malignant tumor that is fixed to underlying or surrounding tissue.

The following is a list of benign conditions that involve the breast:

Infection – Infection within the breast tissue is called mastitis. It is more common in women who are breastfeeding but can happen at any time. Signs of infection are redness, warmth, tenderness, and possibly drainage of pus from the nipple. You may also feel a mass with the breast tissue or in the armpit. This could be an abscess (infection that is walled-off from the rest of the tissue) or enlarged lymph nodes. 2  These masses will be tender, where a painless mass is more likely to be cancerous.3

Cysts – Cysts are fluid-filled sacs with an epithelial lining that vary in size and number in a given individuals breast. They may appear to be oval or round on an ultrasound image, with smooth edges and a dark center. Cysts can be tender or completely painless. If they are painful or become bothersome, they can be aspirated or drained, which may help. However, the cyst will likely recur unless the lining of the cyst is excised surgically.4

Fibroadenomas – Fibroadenomas are benign solid tumors that almost always occur during a woman’s reproductive years. They can be detected by mammogram or ultrasound and are typically smooth, round and firm. They may worsen with pregnancy.5

Fibrocystic Breast Disease – Fibrocystic breast disease refers to the presence of multiple painful lumps in the breast that come and go with menstrual cycles.  This is most common in women over the age of 30 and has no identifiable cause. It may subside after menopause.6

Calcifications – Calcifications are small calcium deposits that can easily be detected on mammogram. They can appear anywhere in the breast and are thought to form as a result of healing, collection of cellular debris, or inflammation.7 Small clusters of calcium, called microcalcifications, may be an early indicator of breast cancer and should be evaluated further to rule it out.8

Hormonal Changes – The hormones in a female body are constantly changing throughout a given month and even throughout her lifetime. These hormones can cause breast tenderness, especially around menstruation.9

Understanding that there are several benign conditions of the breast helps relieve fear when a mass or new change is found.  Also, being familiar with what your normal breast tissue feels like is important, as it will make detecting a new change much easier. Remember, all breast lumps are not cancer, but when found, must be reported to your doctor to determine whether or not they are.

References

1 Apantaku, L. M. (2000). Breast Cancer Diagnosis and Screening. American Family Physician , 596-602+.

2Freund Karen M. Rationale and Technique of Clinical Breast Examination. MedGenMed 2(4), 2000.

3 Hartmann, Lynn C and Charles Loprinzi. Mayo Clinic Guide to Women’s Cancers. (2005). New York: Mayo Clinic Health Information.

4 Ibid

5 Breast Conditions Other Than Breast Cancer. (2011). Retrieved from Better Health Channel – victoria Government Dpeartment of Health: www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Breast_conditions_other_than_breast_cancer?open

6 Fibrocystic Breast Disease. (2011, January). Retrieved from Medline Plus: www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000912.htm

7 Hartmann, op. cit.

8 Breast Conditions Other Than the Breast op. cit.

9 Breast Conditions Other Than the Breast op. cit.

This article was originally published on July 27,2012 and last revision and update of it was 9/2/2015.