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What causes benign breast lumps?

October 17, 2013

Johns Hopkins Medical Center says that 40 percent of breast cancer diagnoses result from self-examinations in which individuals find lumps in their breasts. Self-examinations are important for early diagnosis of breast cancer, but not every lump felt is cancerous. Though no lump found in the breast tissue should be ignored, women and even men must remain calm upon discovering a lump, as it could very well prove benign.


Several different types of benign lumps can form in the breast. Women may find that their breasts regularly feel a bit lumpy. This is due to the milk ducts, lobules and lymph nodes that are found in and around the fatty tissue of the breast. In addition, benign lumps may form as the result of fluid-filled cysts, clumps of fat, excess skin, or even ingrown hairs that block a hair follicle. Benign lumps generally require no treatment if they are not causing pain or any other problems in the body. Infection and hormonal changes during menstruation can contribute to benign lumps in the breast, as can a host of other conditions.


Fibroadenoma: A fibroadenoma is a common lump found in the breast that is not cancerous. These are typically smooth, rubbery lumps that move easily in breast tissues. These types of lumps commonly occur in teenagers and also in women under the age of 30. The cause of fibroadenomas is unknown, but they are thought to be linked to reproductive hormones. They may increase in size during pregnancy and tend to shrink after menopause.


Cysts: Cysts are fluid-filled sacs that form under the skin. If they are painful, cysts can be drained of fluid. Oftentimes a doctor will take a fluid sample from the cyst to rule out cancer.


Fibrosis: This is a firmness in the connective tissues of the breast. Lumps may form where breasts are especially firm.


Benign tumors: Benign tumors can grow where breast cells have grown abnormally or rapidly. Unlike cysts, tumors are solid. A biopsy is the only way to determine if a tumor is benign or cancerous.


Fat necrosis: Scar tissue that feels like a lump may develop when a breast heals after injury.


Mastitis: This is an infection that most often occurs when a woman is breastfeeding. The breasts can feel painful and warm. Abscesses also may form. Antibiotics can usually clear up the infection.


Intraductal papillomas: Papillomas can form inside the breast as tiny, wart-like growths. When they occur around the ducts in the nipple, they can cause the nipple to discharge blood. These fibrous tissues can be removed and are not cancerous.


Duct ectasia: When a milk duct beneath the nipple dilates, the walls of the duct thicken and the duct fills with fluid. Then the duct can become blocked and clogged, causing unusual nipple discharge.


Many of these conditions mimic the symptoms of breast cancer. But very often lumps found in the breast are benign. If a lump is found, don’t panic and contact your physician.