What do I do if I find a lump in my breast?

Breast masses may be fluid filled or they can be solid. Cysts are common and may be very painful but they are not potentially cancer. They usually resolve without any form of treatment, but may be drained by a needle in the doctor’s office for diagnosis and pain control.

Breast tissue has a lumpy texture which varies throughout the breast and is different from person to person. The lumpiness can be more pronounced in some women. If the lumpiness seems consistent throughout the breast and both breasts feel the same, this is likely normal breast tissue.

Lumps in younger women can be associated with the menstrual cycle and will usually go away when the cycle is over.

The benefit of regular breast self-exam is that you become familiar with how your breasts feel from month-to-month, and can more readily detect and find lumps in your breast. Changes will be more noticeable if you have an idea of what is normal for your breasts. Lumps that feel harder than the rest of your breast are more likely to be breast cancer, however there are many other breast diseases that mimic breast cancer but are not malignant.


Benign Breast Disease

Some benign breast conditions can cause discomfort and may require treatment. Others need no medical treatment at all.

There are many noncancerous breast conditions including:

  • Fibroadenomas
  • Intraductal papillomas
  • Sclerosing adenosis
  • Cysts

Fibroadenomas are the most common benign solid masses. These are found in women of all ages including young women in their teens. A solid lump is usually the first indication of a breast cancer, so with rare exception, all solid masses should be biopsied. This procedure obtains cells, a small piece of the mass (or the entire mass) which is then sent for pathological examination. If a mass on biopsy is benign and on physical exam or imaging studies remains stable in size, it can be left in the breast. If the lump grows in size, we recommend removing it even if biopsy does not indicate cancer.

Intraductal papillomas are small growths in the milk ducts that occur most commonly in women aged 35 to 55. They can be painful and can cause nipple discharge. Once these growths are removed by surgery, there is no further treatment necessary.

Sclerosing adenosis: these are small breast lumps that may be found on a mammogram. They are caused by enlarged lobules which may be painful. The distorted shape of this mass is similar to cancer and a biopsy will be needed to confirm the diagnosis. This condition is not malignant and does not need treatment.

Cysts are sacs filled with fluid which are common in pre-menopausal women. They are usually benign and occur less often after menopause. They can be diagnosed by ultrasound or mammogram. A biopsy is not necessary to diagnose a cyst. No treatment is necessary unless they are painful. If this is the case, the fluid can be drained.

All breast lumps should be checked out by a breast specialist. If the lump is benign it is great news and will provide peace of mind. If it is cancer, you will have caught it at an early stage and likely be cured. If you’re asking yourself “what do I do if I find a lump in my breast?”, the answer would be to have it checked by a breast specialist.


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