You notice that something is different with your breast, and you find a lump. Now what?
If you notice any breast changes, call your doctor to get it checked, but don’t panic as most breast lumps are benign, which means they’re not cancerous.
Benign breast lumps usually have smooth edges and can be moved slightly when you push against them. They are often found in both breasts.
5 Common causes
There are several common causes, including normal changes in breast tissue, breast infections, or injury.
Breast tissue changes during a woman’s entire life. It is sensitive to changing hormone levels during the menstrual cycle and at menopause.
These are the most common benign lumps. If you push on them, they are solid, round, rubbery lumps that move freely.
They’re usually painless and women between 20 and 30 get them most often and they can be surgically removed.
2 Fibrocystic changes.
Changes in hormones during your menstrual cycles can create changes in your breasts. These are known as fibrocystic breast changes. You could get lumps in both breasts that increase in size and tenderness just before your period. You might have nipple discharge as well.
The lumps are milk ducts and tissues around them that have grown and widened to form cysts. These enlarge quickly in response to hormones released near your period. The lumps may be hard or rubbery and could feel like a single (large or small) lump. Fibrocystic changes can also cause breast tissue to thicken.
These changes are often most noticeable during your 40s. They’re the most common cause of benign breast lumps in women ages 35 to 50.
Postmenopausal women are less likely to have these types of breast changes but if you see or feel any kind of lump it still needs to be checked by a doctor. That’s because even post menopause some women still experience hormonal surges.
They don’t usually require treatment, but your doctor may recommend ways to ease monthly tenderness.
3 Simple cysts.
Simple cysts are fluid-filled sacs that usually affect both breasts. You could have one or many. They can vary in size. Their tenderness and size often change with your menstrual cycle.
Simple cysts can be treated with fine needle aspiration. This isn’t surgery. Your doctor will place a needle into the area around the lump. If the lump is a cyst, they can suck out the fluid and the cyst will collapse.
Cysts can also go away on their own, so your doctor may choose to wait and see if it goes away.
4 Intraductal papillomas.
These are small, wart-like growths in the lining of the mammary duct near the nipple. They usually affect women who are 30 to 50.
They can cause bleeding from the nipple and can be removed with surgery.
5 Traumatic fat necrosis.
This happens when there is an injury to the breast, though you may not remember an injury happening.
It causes fat to form in lumps that are generally round, firm, hard, and painless. You usually get one at a time.
It can be hard to tell if a lump from traumatic fat necrosis is that or something else until your doctor does a biopsy. These usually don’t need to be treated. But if the lump bothers you, the doctor can remove it.
How often are breast lumps cancerous?
About 20% of the time, breast lumps are cancer, which means 80% of the time they are not.
Does a lump mean infection?
It can. Sometimes a painful lump, with or without redness, is the first sign of an infection.
Mastitis is an infection most common in breastfeeding mothers. It happens when bacteria get into the mammary ducts through your nipple.
Infection happens in small pockets. You’ll feel tender, warm lumps in your breast.For relief, try a hot shower and let the warm water flow over your breasts. A warm compress can also help and sometimes your doctor will prescribe an antibiotic.
What you need to do
Always see your doctor if you discover any new breast changes, such as these:
- An area that’s clearly different from any other area on either breast
- A lump or thickened area in or near the breast or underarm that lasts through your menstrual cycle
- A change in breast size, shape, or contour
- A mass or lump. It could be as small as a pea or feel like a marble under your skin.
- A change in how the skin on your breast or nipple looks or feels. It could be dimpled, puckered, scaly, or inflamed.
- Clear or bloody fluid coming out of the nipple
- Red skin on your breast or nipple
How to help yourself
About 1 in 8 women in the UK are diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime. If it’s detected early, treatment is more successful and there’s a good chance of recovery.
Breast screening aims to find breast cancers early. It uses an X-ray test called a mammogram that can spot cancers when they’re too small to see or feel.
As the likelihood of getting breast cancer increases with age, all women aged from 50 to their 71st birthday who are registered with a GP are automatically invited for breast cancer screening every 3 years.
But currently there’s a trial to examine the effectiveness of offering some women 1 extra screen between the ages of 47 and 49, and 1 between the ages of 71 and 73.
You’ll first be invited for screening within 3 years of your 50th birthday but you may be eligible for breast screening before the age of 50 if you have a very high risk of developing breast cancer due to family history of it.
Maintaining good balanced hormone levels is essential. Excess oestrogens associated with a higher risk of breast cancer and it is progesterone that is the hormone nature designed to be in balance with oestrogen.
Oestrogen dominance is common at peri/menopause so even if you have low levels of oestrogen, and your progesterone levels are even lower, you will still be at risk for excess oestrogen.
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