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Breast lumps in women are common. It can be alarming when changes are sensed in the breasts or a lump appears and it can be hard not to panic or worry. However, not all lumps are cancerous. Most lumps are non-cancerous (benign) or non-life-threatening.
Up to half of all women will experience fibrocystic changes that cause noncancerous breast lumps at some point in their lives.
Causes of Breast Lumps
A lump may occur at any age. Babies can even have them at birth because of the estrogen they get from their mothers. Puberty in young men and women also results in changes to their breasts. A breastfeeding mother may also notice lumps, but these are temporary and usually do not need any treatment.
Possible causes of breast lumps include:
- Infections or mastitis
- Hormonal changes
- Benign tumors
- Fatty lumps or lipoma
- Medical incidence.
Among these, breast cysts and fibroadenomas are quite common. Breast cysts are round or oval fluid-filled sacs inside the breast. They are very common in women aged 30 to 50 years. Some cysts disappear on their own, but some will last a lifetime. Cysts may be found in both breasts. Some are painful and may need specific treatment.
Fibroadenomas are benign tumors that tend to occur in women in their 20s to 30s. They are small marble-like lumps that are movable and painless. They may change in size and grow on breast tissue.
Women in their 40s and above are at higher risk of developing cancerous lumps, so regular checkups are recommended. When you reach your 60s, it’s recommended that you get a regular mammogram or an annual checkup.
Diagnosis & Treatment of Breast Lumps
First, it pays to know how your breasts feel and look normally so that you’ll notice if there is anything wrong. A healthy breast feels firm on the upper part and somewhat softer on the lower part. However, they become less dense as you age, so they won’t feel as firm as they once did.
While most breast lumps are non-cancerous, if there are any changes or lumps that you feel, have them checked by a healthcare professional. They can evaluate and examine you properly, and let you know whether it is benign or if you will need further tests. Some breast lumps can be dangerous and may develop into cancer.
Here are some breast abnormalities that you may encounter:
- A bulge or lump that is tender
- Nipple fluid-like discharge
- Changes in color, size, and shape of the breast
- Redness on the part of the skin and nipple of the breast.
The following are risk factors you should be aware of:
- Overweight or obesity
- Genes and family history
- Poor diet and lifestyle
- Smoking and/or drinking alcohol
- Reproductive history.
Related Article: Common Benign Lumps
Breast Lump Treatment
Your doctor may conduct the following tests to determine whether the lump is non-cancerous:
- Mammogram – used to x-ray the breast to check for any abnormalities.
- Breast Ultrasound – used as a follow-up test after a mammogram to see the images of the breast.
- MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) – is used to check if there is a lump not detected by the mammogram or ultrasound.
If the doctor finds that the lump is potentially cancerous, more tests will be conducted. One is to take a biopsy, which involves getting a tissue sample to check under a microscope.
The treatment will depend on the type or cause of the breast lump. Some common breast lumps do not need medication or treatment, whereas other lumps found may require doctors to prescribe antibiotics.
If the lump is serious, doctors may order the following treatments:
- Lumpectomy – a surgery to remove a lump on the breast.
- Radiation therapy – to reduce and ease the symptoms caused by the lump.
- Chemotherapy – to treat and kill the rapidly growing cancer cells.
If the lump is not serious, you can turn to home remedies for relief:
- Apply a hot or cold compress
- Wear comfortable clothes
- Take over-the-counter medicine recommended by your doctor
- Reduce intake of caffeine
- Try herbal medicines
- Use essential oils (primrose or raspberry oil).
It can be worrisome to notice any abnormalities in your breast. It can be scary, to say the least! Performing monthly breast self-exams allows you to become familiar with your breast’s appearance, shape, and size so you can recognize new lumps early.
However, the important thing is to not self-diagnose and jump to the wrong conclusion. Some abnormalities are quite common and non-cancerous, so there is no cause for panic. The best thing to do is to consult your doctor immediately so that you’ll know exactly what is going on. For serious breast problems, early diagnosis is key to preventing them from getting worse.