Common Breast Conditions
Most breast changes women experience throughout their lifetime are benign. Learn more about the most common benign breast conditions.
- Fibrocystic breast changes
- Intraductal papillomas
- Nipple discharge
- Breast abscesses
- Breast pain
Fibrocystic breast changes refer to painful or lumpy breasts that are caused by fluid-filled cysts. The cysts can get larger or smaller throughout a woman’s menstrual cycle. The hormonal changes during a menstrual cycle may increase the fluid in the cyst-like areas and increase tenderness in the breasts. Some cysts can be large enough to feel like a mass. If a woman feels a new mass that doesn’t significantly decrease in size or resolve with a menstrual period, she should have her doctor evaluate it. An ultrasound and/or a mammogram may be used to look at the mass. Some cysts may require drainage if they very large and causing discomfort.
If your breast exams and mammograms are normal, you do not need to worry about your symptoms. Fibrocystic breast changes do not increase your risk of breast cancer. Symptoms usually improve after menopause if a woman does not go on hormone replacement therapy.
A fibroadenoma is a benign tumor or mass in the breast that can appear to be a lump in the breast. Fibroadenomas are not cancer. A fibroadenoma may appear when a woman is in her early 20s or late teens. If a mass appears during this time, an exam by a doctor and an ultrasound are recommended to confirm that the mass looks like a benign fibroadenoma. Sometimes, a biopsy may be recommended for this type of mass. Some fibroadenomas can grow large and require surgical removal; however, most do not need to be removed and will likely decrease in size or resolve over a woman's lifetime.
Gynecomastia is the growth of abnormally large breasts in men. This is due to excess growth of breast tissue, not excess fat tissue. Several medications or drugs may cause gynecomastia. Often, no treatment is needed. In cases of extreme breast growth, treatment options include hormone treatment that blocks the effects of estrogen or breast-reduction surgery.
An Intraductal papilloma is a small, benign tumor that grows in a milk duct of the breast. Symptoms may include a breast lump or nipple discharge. Some papillomas are found on routine screening mammograms and show no symptoms. A mammogram and possibly an ultrasound should be performed to evaluate the mass. Most papillomas will require biopsy to confirm the diagnosis. A papilloma does not require surgical removal unless it shows associated cells that appear to be abnormal.
Nipple discharge is any fluid that comes out of the nipple area in a woman's breast. Nipple discharge usually is not cancer (benign), but it can be a sign of breast cancer. It is important to find out what is causing the discharge and to get treatment. Nipple discharge that is not normal is:
- Bloody (from either nipple)
- Comes from only one nipple
- Comes out on its own without squeezing or touching your nipple
See your healthcare provider to have nipple discharge evaluated.
When a breast is injured by trauma, tiny blood vessels may rupture to cause localized bleeding (a hematoma). The hematoma can feel like a lump. Trauma to the breast also can damage the fat cells in breast tissue, a condition called fat necrosis. Fat necrosis can form a lump in the breast. This type of lump is not cancer. If a woman has a new lump or mass in her breast, she should see her healthcare provider to have it evaluated. If there was a recent trauma to the breast, such as a seatbelt injury during a car accident, the mass may be related to the incident. However, the mass often is not from the traumatic event and should be evaluated with breast imaging and biopsy.
A breast abscess is a painful collection of pus that forms in the breast. Most abscesses develop just under the skin and in the region of the nipple. They are caused by a bacterial infection. Breast abscesses usually can be successfully treated with antibiotics and drainage using local anaesthetic.
There are many possible causes for breast pain. Hormone changes from menstruation or pregnancy often cause breast tenderness. Some swelling and tenderness just before your period is normal. Some women who have pain in one or both breasts may fear breast cancer. However, breast pain is not a common symptom of cancer.