Breast Lump: The Basics

A breast lump is usually noncancerous. What this means is that they might be benign. Finding a lump on your breast might be a bit of a surprise, but you should remember that it may not have any effect on your health in the long term.  

It is also important to note that a breast lump may indicate cancer. Thus, if you notice any lump on your breast, the best course of action that you should take should be to see a doctor. He or she will then do a medical evaluation of the lump.

Breasts are a common feature in women. In fact, when the word breast is mentioned, we associate it with women. However, both gender (men and women) have breast tissue. This tissue is affected by the hormones. Hormonal changes can cause the formation of lumps. In some cases, hormonal changes may also cause the natural disappearance of these lumps. A human can develop lumps on the breasts at any age.

Babies may develop breast lumps. These lumps are caused by the estrogen that they get from their mothers at birth. These lumps clear up as the estrogen reduces and eventually leaves the body. Breast lumps may also form in pre-pubescent girls. These lumps are usually tender to the touch. The lumps disappear during puberty. Breast lumps may also develop in adolescent boys during puberty. These lumps are temporary and also disappear within a few months.

Breast lump
Photo Credit: MedlinePlus

WHAT ARE THE CAUSES OF BREAST LUMPS?

So many factors may contribute to the occurrence of a breast lump. These include:

  • Breast Cysts. Cysts are soft sacs that are filled with fluid.
  • Milk cysts. These are sacs that are filled with milk. They may occur during breastfeeding.
  • Breast cancer
  • Injury
  • Lipoma (a noncancerous, fatty lump that grows slowly)
  • Hamartoma
  • Fibroadenoma
  • Mastitis, or breast infection.

HOW SHOULD MY BREASTS FEEL?

The consistency of breast tissue varies. The upper part of your breast may have a firm feeling while the inner and lower parts feel somewhat soft. For women, the breasts become lumpy or tenderer during the menstrual cycle. The density of the breast also reduces as a person gets older.

It is important that one knows how his or her breast feels so that you will be quick to observe when there is a change. It is important to note that the United States Preventive Services Task Force does not allow doctors to teach women how to examine their own breasts. There is not much evidence that self-examination of breast reduces the risk of dying from cancer of the breast. As a matter of fact, self-examination of the breast may cause some harm because you may find a lump that is noncancerous, and then plunge yourself into a sea of worry. This may lead to some unwarranted medical procedures all in a bid to ensure that the lump is not cancerous.

Rather than examining their breasts by yourself, experts recommend that women should be familiar with the way their breast looks and feels. For instance, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists are of the opinion that women should practice breast self-awareness. If you notice any changes in your breasts, please report to your doctor.

IF YOU HAVE THE FOLLOWING SIGNS, THEN YOU NEED TO SEE YOUR DOCTOR

Always have it at the back of your mind that most breast lumps are not cancerous. However, if you notice the following signs, then you have to see your doctor:

  • You notice a new lump
  • One area of your breast has a significant difference compared to the other parts of the breast.
  • There is a change in the lump or it grows bigger
  • You notice some bruises on your breast (for no apparent reason)
  • You have a lump that does not go away even after menstruation
  • There is redness on your breast skin.
  • Your nipple oozes a bloody discharge

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU VISIT YOUR DOCTOR?

When you report a breast lump to your doctor, he or she will make some inquiries with regards to the lump. You should expect some questions such as – when you discovered the lump, and whether you have any other symptoms other than the lump. He or she will also do a physical examination of the breasts.

If the doctor cannot point out the exact cause of the lump, he will order for some additional testing.

Mammogram

The term mammogram defines an X-ray of the breast. It helps the doctor to identify any abnormalities in the breast.

Ultrasound

This is a painless and noninvasive procedure that makes use of sound waves to produce images of the breast.

Magnetic resonance imaging

Magnetic resonance imaging makes use of radio waves and a magnetic field to take detailed images of the breast.

Fine needle aspiration

This involves the removal of fluid from a breast lump with a needle. Sometimes, the doctor may use an ultrasound to guide the needle with precision. Cysts that are not cancerous will disappear after the fluid is removed. If the fluid is cloudy or bloody, then the sample will be subjected to laboratory analysis for cancer cells.

Biopsy

This involves analyzing a tissue sample under a microscope. There are different types of breast biopsy:

  • Core needle biopsy
  • Fine needle aspiration biopsy
  • Surgical biopsy
  • Stereotactic biopsy
  • Vacuum-assisted biopsy

HOW ARE BREAST LUMPS TREATED?

Before your doctor can create a treatment plan, he or she must determine the exact cause of your breast lump. You should note that not every breast lump requires treatment.

If your breast is infected, you’ll be given some antibiotics. If there is a cyst in your breast, it can be drained of the fluids. Cysts usually disappear after they are drained of fluids. In some cases, you may not need to treat the cysts as they may disappear on their own.

If the lump in your breast is cancerous, you’ll be given some treatment including:

  • Removal of the lump, or lumpectomy
  • Mastectomy, which involves removal of the breast tissue
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy

Treatment depends on the type of cancer, the location of the tumor and its size, and the extent to which cancer has spread. Some breast lumps do not require any treatment. If your breast lump is caused by an injury, you will be allowed some time to heal. Lumps such as fibroadenoma do not need any removal or treatment. That’s why you shouldn’t rush into conclusions any time you notice a lump on your breast. Your doctor will help you to know whether there is any need for further testing or treatment.

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