When To Worry About Breast Lumps
So, you feel a lump in your breast. Or, is it a lump? You’re unsure.
The one thing you are sure about is that you’re worried and that you’ve got a lot of questions.
If you’re concerned about something that feels like a lump in your breast, Dr. Jitesh Joshi, medical oncologist at Houston Methodist Cancer Center, has answers to your questions about breast lumps, as well as some advice.
Common Causes Of Benign Breast Lumps
Most benign breast lumps and conditions are directly related to your menstrual cycle, to fluctuations in your hormones, and to the fluid buildup that comes with your monthly period. Other benign breast lumps and conditions may be related to plugged milk ducts, infections, or even breast injuries. The risk for benign breast conditions increases for women who have never had children and those who have a history of irregular menstrual cycles or a family history of breast cancer.
Here are some of the most common benign breast conditions.
Fibrocystic changes These changes cause a general lumpiness that can be described as ropy or granular, and affect at least half of all women. Symptoms of fibrocystic change include tender, fibrous, rubbery tissue a thickening of tissue or a round, fluid-filled cyst. These changes, which are related to hormonal fluctuation, may increase as you approach middle age and disappear with menopause. Sometimes doctors recommend limiting salt and caffeine consumption to ease fluid buildup. Birth control pills may also ease symptoms.
Mastitis An infection of the milk duct, mastitis can create a lumpy, red, and warm breast, accompanied by fever. It occurs most commonly in women who are breastfeeding, but can occur in non-breastfeeding women as well. Treatment involves warm compresses and antibiotics. Because these symptoms are similar to inflammatory breast cancer, if they occur in a non-breastfeeding woman a doctor may want to do a biopsy.
How Are Breast Lumps Treated
Treatment for a breast lump depends on the cause. Some lumps dont require any treatment.
Breast lump treatment includes:
- Antibiotics for a breast infection.
- Fluid drainage for a breast cyst .
- Excisional biopsy to remove a mass .
- Cancer treatment if the lump is biopsy-proven breast cancer. Cancer therapies may include lumpectomy, mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
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How Big Are Breast Cancer Lumps
That said, the longer a cancerous lump grows, the greater the risk of cancer spreading to other parts of the body. This is why it is important that people speak with a doctor as soon as they notice a lump in their breast of any size.
Benign breast lumps are non-cancerous, and it is normal for people to have them at some point during their lives. Cysts and fibroadenomas are examples of benign breast lumps.
According to Breastcancer.org, symptoms of benign breast lumps include:
- general breast pain
- nipple pain
- yellow or green discharge from the nipple
However, some types of breast cancer also present with these symptoms, so it is important that a person speaks with a doctor as soon as they notice any changes in their breast.
Also, some benign breast conditions can increase the risk of a person developing breast cancer later in life. In these cases, a doctor will draw up a treatment plan and monitor the breast for any changes.
Does A Breast Cancer Lump Feel Like A Pea
The Importance of Size, Movability, and Pain in Breast Lumps Breast lumps that arent harmful can be firm and unmovable, like a dried bean, or movable, fluffy, and fluid-filled, like a grape that you can roll between your fingers. A lump may be the size of a pea, smaller than a pea, or even several inches across, but this is uncommon.
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What Is A Fibroadenoma
Fibroadenomas are solid, smooth, firm, noncancerous lumps that are most commonly found in women in their 20s and 30s. They are the most common benign lumps in women and can occur at any age. They are increasingly being seen in postmenopausal women who are taking hormone therapy.
The painless lump feels rubbery and moves around freely. You may find one yourself. Fibroadenomas vary in size and can grow anywhere in the breast tissue.
What Does A Cancer Lump Feel Like Hard Or Soft
Cancerous lumps that can be felt from the outside of your body can appear in the breast, testicle, or neck, but they can also appear in the arms and legs. Cancerous lumps that can be felt from the outside of your body can appear in the breast, testicle, or neck, but they can also appear in the arms and legs.
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What Is The Staging For Breast Cancer
Stage I and II breast cancers
- Early-stage localized breast cancer
- Tumor is less than 2 cm in size and is node negative
- Stage II tumors have spread to the axillary lymph nodes and/or a tumor size larger than 2 cm but smaller than 5 cm
Stage III breast cancers
- Locally advanced breast cancer
- Large breast tumors
- Extensive axillary lymph node involvement , nodal involvement of both axillary and internal mammary nodes at diagnosis, or nodal involvement of the soft tissues above or below the collarbone
- A tumor is also considered to be stage III if it extends to underlying muscles of the chest wall or the overlying skin
- Inflammatory breast cancer is at least stage III even if it is small and does not involve lymph nodes
Stage IV breast cancer
- Metastatic breast cancer
- Tumors have spread to areas outside the breast and lymph nodes to the bones, lungs, liver, or other organs
- The primary tumor in the breast may be any size, and there can be any number of affected lymph nodes
What Do Male Breast Cancer Lumps Feel Like
A lump-like swelling in the breast that may or may not be painful is the most common symptom of male breast cancer. A lump or thickening may be near the breast or in the underarm area. One side of the chest may appear bulkier than the other. Although most men diagnosed with breast cancer are older than 65 years, breast cancer can appear in younger men. Other common signs and symptoms may include:
- A change in the size or shape of the nipples
- Men with breast cancer usually have lumps that can be felt
- A dimple or puckering in the skin around the nipple
- A nipple turned inward
- Fluid discharge from the nipple, especially if it’s bloody
- Scaly, red, or swollen skin on the breast, nipple, or areola
- Dimples in the breast that looks like the skin of an orange, called peau dorange
- Sometimes breast cancer can spread and cause swelling under the arm or around the collar bone even before the original tumor in the breast becomes big enough to be felt
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What Is Usually The First Sign Of Breast Cancer
A lump that wont go anywhere in your breast or underarm. This is a common first sign of breast cancer. A lump on a mammogram will normally be seen by your doctor long before you can see or feel it. Swelling in the armpits or around the collarbone.
A Lump In Your Breast
A lump or mass in the breast is the most common symptom of breast cancer. Lumps are often hard and painless, although some are painful. However, not all lumps are cancer. Benign breast conditions that can also cause lumps.
Still, its important to have your doctor check out any new lump or mass right away. If it does turn out to be cancer, the sooner its diagnosed the better.
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How To Look For Changes
Standing in front of a mirror, a person should look at the overall appearance of the breasts and nipples. Here are some questions to think about while doing so:
- Are they similar in size, shape, and height?
- Is one a different color than the other?
- Are there any visible skin lesions, marks, color changes, or moles?
- Are there any signs of swelling, lumpiness, pitting, or contour changes?
- Are the nipples facing outward or inward?
A person should run through this checklist twice: once with their arms at their sides and once with their arms above their head.
Breasts are rarely identical, but noticing changes can help detect a problem early. Having an idea of the usual size, shape, appearance, and feel of the breasts can help a person be aware of any changes.
How To Understand Your Risk Of Breast Cancer
All adult women are at risk of breast cancer, and this risk increases as we get older, says Newman. But there are other factors and conditions associated with breast cancer risk, and its important for women to be aware of them so that those at high-risk can take extra precautionslike getting a breast MRI in addition to an annual mammogram or, in some cases, taking a specific medication to reduce their risk of breast cancer.
So what factors and conditions should be on your radar?
Breast cancer is more common among women with certain family histories of cancer, such as breast cancer in a male relative or multiple relatives with breast and/or ovarian cancerespecially if they are close relatives and especially if they were diagnosed at a young age, says Newman. Women with these family patterns should consider undergoing genetic testing to determine whether they have inherited a DNA pattern associated with breast cancer risk, she suggests.
Pregnancy and breastfeeding can also impact your breast cancer riskgetting pregnant younger and breastfeeding longer are both associated with lower risk, says Gralow.
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If You Find A Breast Lump
Most benign breast conditions are treatable, and some will even go away on their own, but it’s best to let your doctor be the one to tell you that. All breast lumps should be evaluated by a medical professional, who will help you decide how to proceed. Because of the fluctuations in breast tissue that occur in response to hormonal changes throughout the month, its typically a good idea to do a self-exam at the same point every month, such as a few days after the end of your menstrual cycle.
Additional reporting by .
Cysts And Abscess Lumps
- Cysts are fluid-filled sacs in the breast. They feel smooth or rubbery and move about under the fingers. They can be quite painful or tender, or they may be painless. Cysts are caused by the hormones that control the menstrual cycle. Cysts are rare in women older than 50 and are not related to breast cancer. If you have a cyst, your doctor may drain it to help relieve the pain and confirm the diagnosis.
- Abscesses are pockets of infection within the breast. They may be quite painful, and the skin over the breast may be red or feel hot or solid. You may feel feverish or ill. Abscesses are treated with antibiotics and surgery to drain the abscess. They are most common in women who are breastfeeding.
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What Are Symptoms Of Breast Cancer
- Swelling or thickening of the breast
- Irritation or dimpling of the breast skin
- Pain in any area of the breast
- Nipple turning inward
- Changes in the size or shape of the breast
- Skin changes on the breast: redness, scaliness, flaky skin, or thickening of the nipple or breast skin
- Nipple discharge that is not breast milk, including blood
- Lump in the underarm area
- Not all lumps in the breast are cancerous more than 80% are benign
- It is impossible to tell by feel only whether a lump is cancerous or not
- See a doctor if you notice any breast changes or lumps
What Is Male Breast Cancer
Breast cancer is a malignant tumor that develops from cells of the breast. Before puberty, girls and boys alike have a small amount of breast tissue with a few ducts located under the nipple and areola. Hormonal changes at puberty cause girls breasts to grow. Male breast tissue does not increase as it does in females after puberty.
The breast tissues contain ducts and may contain a few lobules . Mens breast duct cells can become cancerous like any other cell of the body. This disease is less common in men than in women because mens breast ducts are less developed.
Causes and risk factors of male breast cancer
The cause of breast cancer in men is not clear. However, there are risk factors that make breast cancer more likely in men:
- Most breast lumps in men are caused by gynecomastia , which is an enlargement of the breast resulting from hormonal imbalance
- Exposure to radiation
- High estrogenic levels due to factors, such as heavy drinking, cirrhosis, obesity, and some medicines that were used to treat prostate cancer, may sometimes cause hormonal imbalance leading to breast cancer
- Heredity, such as a family history of breast cancer or mutated BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene in the family
- Certain genetic disorders, such as Klinefelter syndrome
- Older age, men are often diagnosed with breast cancer between ages of 60 to 70 years
Stages of male breast cancer
Treatment options for male breast cancer
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Research On Breast Exam Standards: Learning What To Feel For
A team of scientists and physicians at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill identified the most effective method for teaching women how to do breast self-exam, in a study called How Best to Teach Women Breast Self-Examination: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Women were randomly assigned into three groups to learn how to learn to do breast self-examination using three different techniques. The first group of women was taught tactile BSE skills using Mammacares standardized breast simulations . The second group of women was taught BSE using traditional printed materiala pamphlet. The third group of women was encouraged to perform BSE without any instruction.
The study reported:
Mammacare instruction resulted in more long-term improved lump detection and examination technique use than did traditional instruction or physician encouragement.
About the Author
Mark Goldstein, Ph.D., was a member of the scientific team on the National Cancer Institute research project that validated the procedures for effective physical examination of the breast. He is a Senior Scientist at the MammaCare Foundation and has devoted his scientific career to advancing the early detection of breast cancer.
How To Do A Breast Self
Step 1: Begin by looking at your breasts in the mirror with your shoulders straight and your arms on your hips.
Here’s what you should look for:
If you see any of the following changes, bring them to your doctor’s attention:
|Breast Self-Exam Step 1|
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Warning Signs Of Breast Cancer
The warning signs of breast cancer are not the same for all women.
The most common signs are:
- A change in the look or feel of the breast OR
- A change in the look or feel of the nipple OR
- Nipple discharge
If you have any of the warning signs described below, see a health care provider .
If you dont have a provider, one of the best ways to find a good one is to get a referral from a trusted family member or friend.
If thats not an option, call your health department, a clinic or a nearby hospital. If you have insurance, your insurance company may also have a list of providers in your area.
Learn more about finding a health care provider.
In most cases, these changes are not cancer.
One example is breast pain. Pain is more common with benign breast conditions than with breast cancer, but the only way to know for sure is to get it checked.
If the change turns out to be breast cancer, its best to find it at an early stage, when the chances of survival are highest.
Change In Size Shape Or Feel Of Your Breast
A cancer might cause your breast to look bigger or have a different shape than usual, it might feel different.
Many healthy women find that their breasts feel lumpy and tender just before their period.
It can help to be breast aware. This means getting to know the size, shape and feel of your breasts.
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