Recently during my annual exam at my OB/GYN, I heard the words no woman wants to hear. “Hmmm, Mrs. Scott-Blakes, I feel something in your breast.” As if it’s not bad enough that I’m in this cold room on this cold exam table, completely naked (minus my socks), just wanting to get this thing over with so I can get dressed and go home. Now you have the nerve to tell me you found a lump on my breast?!?! Needless to say, I was a little taken back. While my doctor reassured me that 9 times out of 10 it is not cancer, deep down I was (am) still nervous. I thought to myself, “why else would I have a lump in my breast if it’s not cancer?” My next thought was, “why didn’t my husband notice this before?”
Being that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I figured I’d do a little research on what this lump just might be besides cancer to help alleviate my concerns. I hope that by sharing my experience and what I learned will help any ladies out there who might also find themselves in a similar situation. Here are the two main types of benign, or non-cancerous, breast conditions that are very common, but fortunately not life-threatening.
Fibrosis and Cysts
Fibrosis is firmness in the connective tissues and cysts are fluid-filled sacs. Fibrosis and/or cysts are benign changes in the breast tissue that happen in many women at some time in their lives. These changes often are affected by hormones and may get worse just before your menstrual period starts. They can cause areas of lumpiness, thickening, or tenderness; nipple discharge; or pain in the breast. Some of these lumps can be watched with mammograms, but others may need a biopsy.
Lumps and areas of thickening caused by fibrosis and cysts are almost always harmless. To be sure that a lump is really a cyst, the doctor can do either a breast ultrasound or take fluid from the cyst with a thin, hollow needle. My doctor believes that my lump is in fact a cyst, and so she had be schedule a breast ultrasound to be sure.
Benign Breast Tumors
Benign breast tumors are non-cancerous areas where breast cells have grown abnormally and rapidly, often forming a lump. Unlike cysts, which are filled with fluid, tumors are solid.
Benign breast tumors may hurt, but they are not dangerous and do not spread outside the breast to other organs. A biopsy is the only way to find out if a lump is benign or cancer.
If a benign tumor is large, it may change the breast’s size and shape. If it’s growing into the tissue of the milk ducts, it may cause an abnormal discharge from the nipple. Depending on the type, size, and number of benign tumors, doctors may recommend surgery to remove them.
After my breast ultrasound, and surprise mammogram, I found out that the lump in my breast was actually scar tissue from my breast reduction a couple years ago. What a relief! While finding a lump in your breast is quite scary at first, knowing that it more than likely is not life threatening is reassuring. Still, some benign breast conditions are important to know about because women with them have a higher risk of developing breast cancer. So be sure to do monthly self exams, and annual exams at your doctor’s office as well. In honor of breast cancer survivors as well as to raise awareness and money to help fight breast cancer, consider participating in a Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk. Click here to find one in your area.