More About Benign Breast Conditions

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The idea of developing breast cancer is scary, so if you’re like most women, you are sensitive to changes you see in your breasts. There are many benign breast conditions for which you may have the symptoms that aren’t related to breast cancer, and we have listed some of them here. However, we always recommend if you notice something new, make an appointment with your doctor.

Breast Pain:

We categorize breast pain two ways: cyclic (comes and goes related to your menstrual period) and non-cyclic.

  • Cyclic: This is breast pain that occurs in response to a change in your hormone levels as part of your menstrual period. Your breasts may feel swollen, sensitive, or painful right before your period. Taking hormonal birth control pills might create the same symptoms. Getting a better fitting bra may provide some relief, as well as taking pain-relievers.
  • Non-cyclic: This is breast pain not related to your menstrual cycle. It typically occurs in one specific area in only one breast. It could be related to injury, an infection such as mastitis (typically happens during breastfeeding when a milk duct becomes clogged and doesn’t drain properly), certain medications, or other cause. In rare cases, non-cyclic breast pain could be related to breast cancer. If you are experiencing this type of pain, we suggest you see your doctor.

Benign Breast Lumps or Masses:

There are different types of lumps you might feel during a breast self-exam or exam with your doctor that aren’t caused by cancer. Generally, they fit into three categories:

  • Nonproliferative – These are caused by normal cells and they often go away on their own. A cyst is an example of one. Cysts are small tissue pockets that are filled with fluid. They typically go away on their own or your doctor can drain a cyst with a needle. Another example is a fibroadenoma, which might feel like a firm, rubbery marble in your breast that moves easily under your skin. Fibroadenomas may grow or shrink on their own over time.
  • Proliferative without atypia – These are caused by normal cells that are increasing in number. Having this type of lump may slightly increase your risk of getting breast cancer in the long term, but on their own, they are benign. Your doctor may wish to surgically remove this kind of lump or just watch it to make sure it is no longer growing.
  • Atypical hyperplasia – These are caused by cells increasing in number, but the cells don’t look normal under a microscope. This type of lump greatly increases your risk of getting breast cancer in the future. Your doctor will likely recommend surgery to remove the lump and some of the surrounding breast tissue.

Nipple Discharge:

You may notice milky white or greenish discharge if you squeeze your breast or nipple. This is usually caused by hormonal changes (especially if you are pregnant) and can also be a side effect of certain medications. If you have any kind of fluid discharge from your nipple, you should have your doctor take a look.

Skin Changes:

Breast skin can be affected by common skin conditions such as psoriasis or eczema. You may also develop a yeast infection under the fold of the breast, which is more common for women with larger breasts. Watch for unusual symptoms, such as skin that is red, warm, or dimpled (like the texture of an orange peel), or has ulcers (small, red, painful blisters).

Know Your Breasts

Knowing how your breasts look and feel normally is important for identifying any changes that could signal a problem. If you notice any of these, don’t panic. Just make an appointment with your doctor for a check-up.

  • A new lump
  • Swelling in all or part of a single breast
  • Skin on the breast that is irritated or dimpled
  • Breast or nipple pain
  • A nipple that is retracted (turns inward)
  • Skin on the nipple or breast that is red, scaly, or thickened, or that has ulcers
  • Discharge from the nipple other than breast milk

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