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Breast Lumps: Things You Need To Know

Here at CORA we recommend all women perform regular monthly breast self-exams.  If lumps or thickenings are detected, here are some things to know.

A breast lump is defined as a swelling, protuberance, or lump in the breast. Very often the discovery of a lump brings the immediate thought of breast cancer, but stay calm. Statistics show that 80-95% of all detected breast lumps are benign, especially in women in the age of 40.

Causes and Types of Breast Lumps

There are many causes for breast lumps. They range from normal changes in the body to abnormal breast diseases.

Fibrocystic Changes

Most often breast lumps are caused by fibrocystic changes, fibroadenomas, lymph nodes, and cysts. They can occur in either one or both breasts.

Fibrocystic changes are are common among most women and are actually considered a normal variation of breast tissue.  Having fibrocystic breasts does not mean you have an increased risk for breast cancer, but it can make it more difficult to interpret any lumps that either you or your doctor find during an exam. They most often develop during the reproductive years.

Fibroadenomas

Fibroadenomas are noncancerous lumps that feel rubbery and are easily movable within the breast tissue. Like fibrocystic changes, they most often occur during the reproductive years. Fortunately, they are not often tender and except in rare cases, do not become cancerous.

Lymph Nodes

Lymph nodes are normal immune system glands that are found throughout the body including in the breasts and armpit. They are commonly found in the upper, outer aspect of the breast. They are usually very mobile and can occasionally be tender.

Cysts

Cysts are milk glands that are fluid-filled and often feel like soft grapes. They can occasionally be tender, especially before your menstrual period.

Other less common causes of breast lumps are:

  • Breast Cancer: typically lumps are painless, hard, and grow rapidly
  • Injury: often if your breast is badly bruised, blood will collect in that area creating what feels like a lump. These lumps are generally quite tender (like any bruise) and will get better on their own in a matter of days or weeks, depending on the severity of the energy
  • Lipoma: A focal collection of fatty tissue that usually presents itself as a soft lump and is generally harmless.

Exams and Tests

If you do detect a lump that concerns you and come in for an exam, generally the doctor will perform a breast exam to feel for lumps. If the doctor feels it is necessary, other tests that may be performed are:

  • Mammogram
  • Breast Ultrasound
  • Breast Biopsy

A normal mammogram and ultrasound exam excludes cancer in over 98% of cases. While a normal mammogram and ultrasound exam is very reassuring, only a biopsy can completely determine whether a lump is benign or malignant.

Remember that it is important to regularly follow breast lumps with repeated breast exams performed by yourself or your doctor.  Any new or enlarging lump needs to be reevaluated promptly to exclude the possibility of cancer.

When Should A Medical Professional be Contacted?

While you don’t want to panic anytime there is a change, you want to be aware of when you do need to get in see your doctor.

Call your doctor if:

  • The skin on your breast appears dimpled or wrinkled, like the peel of an orange.
  • You find a new breast lump during your monthly self-exam or a known lump is getting bigger
  • You have bruising on your breast, but did not experience any injury
  • You have nipple discharge, especially if it is bloody or pinkish (blood-tinged)

Prevention

Breast cancer screening is an important way to detect breast cancer early when it is most easily treated and cured. Here are some basic prevention tactics:

  • Get regular mammograms.
  • If you over age 20, consider doing a monthly breast self-exam. 
  • If you are over 20 years old, have a complete breast exam by your medical professional at least every 3 years and every year if you are over 40 years old.

Remember having fibrocystic breast tissue, mastitis, or breast tenderness related to Premenstrual Syndrome does NOT put you at a greater risk for breast cancer. Having fibrocystic breasts does however make your self-exam more confusing because there are many more normal lumps and bumps.

To prevent breast cancer research says to:

  • Exercise regularly
  • Reduce fat intake
  • Eat lots of fruits, vegetables, and other naturally high fiber foods
  • Limit alcohol consumption to 1 to 1 ½ servings per day

If you have questions or need to schedule an appointment, call our appointment line at 541-382-9383.
ACR Breast Imaging Center of Excellence

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