The Female Body
Recommended Health Screenings
|I Have A Breast Lump, What Could It Be?
Firstly, most breast lumps are NOT breast cancer. 9 out of every 10 lumps that are inspected by doctors are benign (noncancerous). But that is NO EXCUSE for not getting it checked out. The breast has a network of glands, ducts, nerves, fat cells and blood vessels, all of which can cause mischief.
Most Common Cause: Fibroadenoma
This type of lump always cause women to worry as it tends to feel quite firm (like a breast cancer lump). It occurs most often in your twenties and feels like a smooth lump under the skin. You find it and then it seems to move under your finger or disappear - that's why doctors refer to it as a 'breast mouse'. It can become quite large, but the average fibroadenoma is normally no bigger than your thumbnail. The doctor is likely to send you for a mammogram or ultrasound scan to confirm the diagnosis. If the diagnosis is still in doubt, a core needle biopsy will be performed. A biopsy will definitely rule cancer out (read more about types of breast biopsies). If the lump isn't bothering you, you don't usually need to do anything about it. Fibroadenomas tend to stop growing after two to three years and in about 10 per cent of cases just disappear. If the lump is painful, the diagnosis is in doubt or you are over forty, you can have a minor operation to remove it. Fibroadenomas can, however, reoccur after surgery. For more pictures see: fibroid pictures.
Next: Fibrocystic Disease
This condition is very common and should not really be called a 'disease' as 50 per cent of women in their thirties and forties suffer from it at some point. In fact doctors are now starting to refer to it as fibrocystic breast condition (FCC, FibroCystic breast Condition). If your breasts feel: (1) lumpy, (2) heavy and (3) painful, this could be your problem. During the monthly menstrual cycle, the breast reacts as if it is preparing for pregnancy, just like the womb. And when you don't fall pregnant, a similar process of breaking things down also occurs in the breast. So individuals with FCC often experience symptoms in the second half of their cycle. The difficulty with this condition is that, because it gives rise to generally lumpy breasts, a breast self-examination can be a struggle. Looking for a lump is like looking for a rock in a sea of gravel. So know what's normal for you and have a check-up every 6 months with your doctor. It should also be noted that FCC tends to affects both breasts. While you can have more problems with one breast, the less affected breast often catches up over the years until both are equally affected.
Breast cysts are fluid filled lumps that can feel painful, tender and grow as big as an orange (also called breast fibroids). On the other hand, some women do not notice any pain or bumpiness if the lump is buried deep in the breast tissue and it is only picked up on a routine examination. Cysts are caused by hormone fluctuations during the menstrual cycle and can also be caused by hormone replacement therapy (HRT). The lump will feel jelly-like, and you may be able to poke your finger into its centre. They are benign (noncancerous) and quite harmless. Cysts can occur in women of all ages but are more common in those over the age of 40 who have not yet reached menopause. A cyst is usually confirmed by either ultrasound testing in young women or a mammogram in those over the age of 35. The specialist is likely to drain the fluid off using a fine needle and syringe if a diagnosis is needed or the cyst is uncomfortable.
Breast Fat Necrosis
The breast contains lots of fat cells, which is one reason our breasts grow bigger when we gain weight. Any trauma to the breast can damage a portion of this fatty tissue. You may not recall any injury but may find a firm, round lump that can cause redness on the breast surface. The doctor will send you to have the diagnosis confirmed by a specialist - the diagnostic procedure will involve a clinical breast examination and may also require a scan or biopsy to rule out other causes. The good news is that it tends to disappear of its own accord.
This feels like a round, firm lump and can occur anywhere in the breast. You will often find lipomas elsewhere, for example the abdominal wall. They are essentially just blobs of fat that are encapsulated (covered) in mature tissue - think chocolate-coated raisins. Lipomas can be difficult to diagnose so often warrant a scan. As lipomas are benign, they do not need to be removed unless the diagnosis is in doubt or they become very large or painful.
Although 9 out of 10 lumps turn out to be benign, one turns out to be cancerous. The most common physical sign of breast cancer is a lump or mass. A lump which is rock-hard, painless and has irregular sharp edges is likely to be cancerous. However breast cancer lumps can also be soft and rounded. For this reason it is important to have all lumps checked out by a doctor as soon as possible. For more, read about the symptoms of breast cancer in women.