Are all breast lumps breast cancer?

So you just found a lump in your breast, does that mean you have breast cancer? Read below to find out more-

Note: If you notice any change in your breasts; a lump, change in shape, color or sudden pain, you should notify your physician immediately.

With breast cancer being the most common cancer globally as of 2021 and accounting for 12% of all new annual cancer cases worldwide, women are continually encouraged to routinely examine their breast for lumps.

So let’s say, you just completed an examination on your breasts and you’re sure you felt a lump, you do not need to start panicking. The truth is most breast lumps are benign (non-cancerous), in fact, only 3 to 6 out of 100 breast lumps are due to breast cancer. 

If the lump you felt has smooth edges, moves slightly when you push against it and can be found in both breasts, there is a good chance that it is benign.

“most breast lumps are benign (non-cancerous), only 3 to 6 out of 100 breast lumps are due to breast cancer”

There are several other causes of breast lumps and we will go over some of them below. Fluctuations in hormone levels during a woman’s cycle is a very common cause, most women notice these lumps only around certain times during their menstrual cycle. Other changes such as mastitis (breast infection), injury to the breasts and normal changes in breast tissues can also be associated. 

What other types of breast lumps are there?

Fibroadenomas 

Fibroadenomas are the most common cause of benign lumps in women and can occur at any age. They are smooth, solid, firm lumps that are most commonly found in women in their 20s and 30s. 

They are usually painless and rubbery and can move around freely in the breasts. They range between small to large in size and can be found anywhere in the breast tissue.

Treatment

As you continue to grow, fibroadenomas would often shrink or disappear naturally. However, surgery is an option for people who have very large fibroadenomas or are uncomfortable with it.

Cysts

A cyst is simply a fluid-filled sac. Breast cysts commonly affect females aged 30-50 years and rarely occurs after menopause. Cysts often become bigger and painful just before your period and may be caused by blocked breast glands. 

They could feel hard or soft depending on their location in the breast. When they’re close to the surface of the breast, they can feel smooth on the outside but on the inside, they are fluid-filled. When they’re buried deep in breast tissue, they could feel like hard lumps. 

Treatment

A surgical operation known as aspiration can be used to remove breast cysts. Note that hard cysts that return even after aspiration may be linked to underlying breast cancer.

Abscesses

Abscesses are benign lumps that most commonly develop in the breast during breastfeeding. 

They are usually as a result of mastitis (an infection of the breast). Lumps due to abscesses are usually accompanied by pain and swelling, heat in the area surrounding the abscess, nipple discharge, fever, pigmentation of the affected area in darker skin tones, nausea and vomiting 

Treatment

  1. Antibiotics to treat the infection
  2. Draining of the abscess
  3. Use of pain relievers such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) for the pain and inflammation

Fat necrosis 

Necrosis is simply tissue death. Fat necrosis can occur in the breasts when fatty tissues in the breasts do not receive sufficient oxygen, this then results in the death and breakdown of such tissues. 

This can occur due to trauma such as a hard blow to the breast, biopsy and some other forms of medical treatment. Fat necrosis can also occur post-breast reconstruction surgery. It can cause slight changes in the shape of the breast and pain may also be associated in some cases.

Treatment

Fat necrosis sometimes goes away on its own but also, a needle biopsy can be done to remove the fluid in an oil cyst. Surgery may be considered if the lump is too big or bothersome.

Intraductal papillomas

Intraductal papillomas are small, wart-like benign growths that occur in the milk ducts of the breasts. They are usually accompanied with nipple discharge which may be clear or colored.

Treatment

Surgery

Lipomas

A lipoma is simply a fatty lump and is usually soft, movable and painless. 

Treatment 

They do not require treatment 

“If you notice any change in your breasts; a lump, change in shape, colour or sudden pain, you should notify your physician immediately”

Not all lumps are cancerous but a few percent of them are indeed cancerous, what are the warning signs of cancerous lumps?

They include:

  • A lump
  • Nipple pain
  • Swelling or thickening of the breast
  • Nipple inversion (the pulling inward of the nipple)
  • Nipple discharge which may be clear or bloodied
  • Changes in size, shape and direction of the breast
  • Pain in the breast (even though pain may be absent in some cases)

In some cases of cancerous lumps, it is possible to notice absolutely no sign and this is why routine medical checks are very important. 

As you may have realised, some symptoms of non-cancerous lumps can also be found in cancerous lumps, hence the need to see your physician as soon as you detect a lump.

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