Breast cancer is one of the most common cancer diagnoses in Utah, with 115 cases per 100,000 women in 2015. Women are taught to know their breasts and watch for any changes and lumps in an attempt to catch and treat breast cancer early. But, what do you do when you find a lump?
“As scary as a breast lump can be, these lumps can often be benign,” says Jamie Boehs, administrator at Lakeside Special Care Center. “Talk to your doctor about breast changes so you can set your mind at ease or get started on treatment.”
All lumps are not equal, and finding one does not necessarily mean you have breast cancer. Any change in your breast tissue should be discussed with a doctor, but here are some of the things that lump might be:
Fibroadenomas can be so tiny that they cannot be felt, or several inches across. These lumps feel like a marble and are more common in younger women in their 20s and 30s. They may change in size, getting larger and smaller, and they are usually round with defined borders. Fibroadenomas can be moved around under the skin, and one or more can be present at a time. They do not always need to be removed and can be watched to see if they grow. If these lumps continue to grow, removal could be recommended.
Changes in hormone levels can also change the way your breasts feel, and these fibrocystic changes can be quite uncomfortable. Breasts may retain water and swell with shifts in hormone levels, usually beginning in a woman’s 20s and 30s. Some who experience these changes will develop cysts — fluid-filled sacs that usually grow and shrink with the menstrual period. These cysts can be drained with a needle in the doctor’s office if needed.
An intraductal papilloma is a big word for a benign lump in your breast. It is a tumor, but it is noncancerous. These tumors are wart-like growths that are often found in the large milk ducts near the nipple. While these growths are not malignant, they can cause symptoms that might make you worry more than you need to. Because they are found in the milk ducts, intraductal papillomas may cause bloody or clear discharge from the nipple. These lumps can be removed surgically, and generally do not increase the risk of breast cancer unless there are other breast changes.
Along with many benign causes of breast lumps is the always-present threat of a cancerous lump. A lump that could be cancerous may show up along with other symptoms, such as warmth, swelling and redness. A lump in the underarm may indicate cancer that has spread to the lymph nodes. A mammogram is the best way to find out if a lump might be cancerous.
Breast self-exams are not a diagnostic tool, and it is no longer recommended for women to conduct them routinely. However, they are an excellent way to be familiar with your breast tissue. Get to know what your breasts normally feel like and talk to your doctor if you notice any changes. Many lumps you might find will be benign, but it is important to get them checked out to be sure.