Benign Breast Disease

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Breast lumps that are not cancerous are benign. Some cause discomfort or pain and require treatment, while others are of little concern and need no medical attention. Unfortunately, many breast diseases mimic the symptoms of cancer and so require tests and sometimes surgical biopsy to diagnose to prove they are not cancerous.

Most lumps turn out to be fibrocystic changes. The term “fibrocystic” refers to fibrosis and cysts. Fibrosis is the formation of fibrous (or scar-like) tissue, and cysts are fluid-filled sacs. Fibrocystic changes can cause breast swelling and pain. This often happens just before a period is about to begin. Your breasts may feel lumpy and sometimes you may notice a clear or slightly cloudy nipple discharge. Some of the more common benign breast diseases:

Hyperplasia

Is a term describing the excessive accumulation (proliferation) of cells. It is usually found on the inside of the lobules or ducts in the breast tissue. There are two main types of hyperplasia—usual and atypical. Both raise the risk of breast cancer, though atypical hyperplasia does so to a greater degree.

Cyst

Unlike cancerous tumors which are solid, cysts are fluid-filled masses in the breast and are almost always benign. Often they can be left alone, or if painful, they can be drained of the fluid (aspirated). They may also be drained if they are palpable and could potentially interfere with clinical exams. Up to a third of women between the ages of 35 and 50 have cysts in their breasts, though most cysts are too small to feel and can be detected only by examination with ultrasound.

If cysts are large enough, they may feel like lumps in the breast. In a small proportion of patients, the cysts will recur after being aspirated. If this happens repeatedly, patients may want to have them removed. Cysts are more common in women as they approach menopause, but they are not associated with an increased risk of cancer. After menopause, cysts occur much less frequently.

Ultrasound is the best way to tell a cyst from a cancer, because sound waves pass right through a liquid-filled cyst. Solid lumps, on the other hand, bounce the waves right back to the film.

Fibroadenomas

These are movable, solid, rounded lumps made up of normal breast cells. While not cancerous, these lumps may grow. And any solid lump that’s getting bigger is usually removed to make sure that it’s not a cancer. Fibroadenomas are the most common kind of breast mass, especially in young women. They are not generally associated with an increased risk of cancer.