Okay, So You’ve Found a Breast Lump – Here’s What to Do

hand on chest2It’s every woman’s secret fear – finding a breast lump.

The first important thing to do is DON’T PANIC.  Studies have shown that 80% of all breast lumps are harmless.

There are many things that can cause a breast lump

Cysts – fluid-filled sacs that can feel like over-ripe grapes. A cyst can sometimes be tender, especially just before your menstrual period.

Fibrocystic changes – lumps that are often painful.  Contrary to popular belief, fibrocystic breast changes do not increase your risk of breast cancer.  You might find that symptoms are usually worse right before your menstrual period, and then improve after your period starts.

Fibroadenomas – noncancerous lumps that feel rubbery and move easily inside the breast tissue. Like fibrocystic changes, they occur most often during your reproductive years. They are usually not tender and except in rare cases, they do not become cancerous.  A doctor can tell during an exam whether a lump is a fibroadenoma. Some doctors will still recommend a lump biopsy just to be sure.

Lipoma – a collection of fatty tissue, a lipoma moves easily with very little finger pressure. Sometimes they are tender to the touch but are usually not associated with any other symptoms. Lipomas rarely become malignant.

Milk cysts – sacs filled with milk and infections (known as mastitis), which may turn into an abscess.  These typically only occur if you are breastfeeding or have recently given birth.  They are painful!

Other causes of breast lumps

There are other conditions which can cause breast lumps:

  • Injury — sometimes if your breast is badly bruised, there will be a collection of blood that feels like a lump. These lumps tend to heal themselves in a few days or weeks but if they do not improve, see your doctor.
  • Breast cancer — if you suspect this, see your doctor

Other breast changes to look for

  • Bruising on your breast, but you did not experience any injury;
  • Any discharge from your nipple, especially if it is bloody or pinkish
  • The skin on your breast appears dimpled or wrinkled, like the peel of an orange
  • A new breast lump during your monthly self-exam
  • Your nipple is inverted (turned inward) but normally is not inverted

Do this first!

Make a call to your primary care doctor and go get it checked out.  Don’t delay, because if it is breast cancer, the earlier you find it and get treatment, the better your chances for survival.

Your doctor will most likely order an ultrasound exam; it’s a painless, radiation-free way of determining if the lump is a mass or a harmless, fluid-filled cyst.  You might also have a core needle biopsy where, with the assistance of the ultrasound equipment, they insert a very slender needle into the breast (it’s not as bad as it sounds) and suck out a small sampling of cells which they test for cancer.

In the event that the lump can’t be seen during your ultrasound exam (which apparently does happen about a third of the time)  a similar procedure known as a “stereotactic needle biopsy” uses a mammogram to guide the procedure.  They use the mammography equipment when they insert the needle and then scan the breast to ensure accuracy.

I know all this sounds very scary, but go and get yourself checked anyway.  If it turns out to be nothing, at least you’ll know and NO ONE will think you are over-reacting.

References:

http://www.webmd.com/breast-cancer/features/advances-in-diagnosing-breast-cancer

http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003155.htm

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