I found a breast lump. Does that mean I have breast cancer?
Finding a breast lump can be alarming, but it does not necessarily mean you have breast cancer. A breast lump can result from many benign conditions including fibrocystic changes, a cyst or fibroadenoma. If you feel a breast lump, notice changes in the breast skin or nipple discharge, you should contact your physician promptly for evaluation.
Fibrocystic Breast Changes
Fibrocystic breast change is a common, non-cancerous condition that affects more than half of women at some point in their lives. Fibrocystic lumps tend to be smooth, rounded and mobile since they are not attached to breast tissue. They are most common among women between the ages of 30 and 50, although women younger than 30 may also have fibrocystic breasts. This condition is related to the menstrual cycle and symptoms will usually cease after menopause unless a woman is taking hormone replacement therapy. These lumps are often tender to touch and may increase or decrease in size during the menstrual cycle.
Having fibrocystic breasts is not a risk factor for breast cancer. However, due to dense breast tissue, it can sometimes make it more difficult to detect a hidden breast cancer with standard examination and mammography. For this reason it is important to ask your physician about any changes you notice, get routine clinical exams by a medical professional and annual mammograms starting at 40. Charlotte Radiology has digital mammography which has been found to have increased sensitivity for detecting breast cancer in women with dense tissue. Therefore, it may be helpful in evaluating women who have fibrocystic breasts.
Treatment of Fibrocystic Breasts may include:
- Wearing extra support bras
- Avoiding caffeine
- Taking oral contraceptives
- Taking over-the-counter medications such as aspirin
- Maintaining a low-fat diet rich in fruits, vegetables and grains
- Applying heat to the breasts
- Reducing salt intake
- Taking diuretics
- Taking Vitamin E, B6, niacin or other vitamins
- Taking prescription drugs
Unlike cancerous tumors which are solid, cysts are fluid-filled masses in the breast. Cysts are very common, and are rarely associated with cancer. Ultrasound is the best way to tell a cyst from a cancer, because sound waves pass right through a liquid-filled cyst. Solid lumps, on the other hand, bounce the waves right back to the film.
Cysts can make it hard to examine yourself, since it’s hard to feel around and behind them. For women with multiple cysts, routine mammographic screening is recommended. Ultrasound is often used if the screening mammogram shows change, or if a woman complains of a new mass. This is done to ensure that the mass is a cyst.
Cyst aspirations are preformed under ultrasound guidance, by removing fluid from a lump with a hollow needle and a syringe. This may be done if there is uncertainty as to whether the lesion is cystic or solid. It can also be done to relieve discomfort from a painful cyst. When cysts are drained, the fluid is usually discarded unless it is bloody or looks suspicious. In these cases, it is sent to pathology for analysis.
Fibroadenomas are mobile, solid, rounded lumps made up of normal breast cells. They are the most common kind of breast mass, especially in young women. While not cancerous, these lumps may grow. And any solid lump that’s getting bigger is usually removed to make sure that it’s not a cancer. If the lump causes discomfort or is bothersome cosmetically, a patient may elect also to have it surgically removed.
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