Breast Changes That Are Not Cancer

Your breasts will undergo many changes throughout your lifetime. Breast changes can be more easily understood if you are familiar with the kinds of tissue that are inside your breasts.

Breasts are made up of three kinds of tissue: glandular, fatty and fibrous connective tissue. Glandular tissue contains milk-producing glands; fatty tissue adds shape to the breasts; fibrous or connective tissue supports the breasts.

Breast tissue usually begins to grow when a girl is between 9 and 11 years old. This is the first sign of puberty. When a woman is under 30, her breasts consist mostly of dense glandular (milk-producing) tissue. As a woman ages, the glandular tissue slowly shrinks and is replaced by fatty tissue. After menopause, the fibrous tissue loses strength, causing the breasts to sag.

In addition to normal growth and aging, breast tissue changes in other ways. Changes in breast tissue are classified as either benign or malignant.

Common benign breast changes fall into several broad categories:

Benign Breast Changes
General changes that occur throughout the entire breast Generalized breast lumpiness is sometimes called fibrocystic change or fibrocystic disease (although it’s not really a disease). This type of lumpiness may become more noticeable in middle age. Unless you are taking replacement hormones, this type of lumpiness generally disappears after menopause.
Solitary lumps Distinct, solitary lumps can appear at any time. They may be large or small, soft or rubbery, fluid-filled or solid. Following are descriptions of some of the noncancerous lumps.

  • Cysts are fluid-filled sacs. They are common in women 35 to 50 years of age. They can enlarge and become painful just before menstruation.
  • Fibroadenomas are round, solid, rubbery lumps. They are usually painless and are most common in women in their late teens and early twenties.
  • Fat Necrosis is a lump that forms after fatty tissue in the breast is damaged. It is common in women with very large breasts.
  • Sclerosing adenosis is a condition that may produce a lump or it may cause changes that are microscopic. It is caused by excessive growth of breast tissue. It frequently causes pain. A biopsy is needed to distinguish sclerosing adenosis from cancer.
Nipple discharge Sometimes women who are not nursing and who have not recently given birth will notice fluid leaking from their nipples. Nipple discharge happens in some benign breast conditions. Small amounts of discharge commonly occur in women taking birth control pills or certain other medications. But it can also be a sign of cancer. If you have a nipple discharge, see your health care provider for diagnosis.
Infection or inflammation
  • Mastitis is a breast infection that usually occurs in women who are breast-feeding. A milk duct becomes blocked, allowing milk to pool and bacteria to invade. The breast appears red, swollen and feels warm, tender and lumpy. If you suspect that you have mastitis, see your health care provider for treatment.
  • Mammary duct ectasia can affect women nearing menopause. Ducts beneath the nipple become inflamed and clogged, causing pain. The infected breast often produces a thick and sticky discharge that is gray to green in color.

If you notice a change, have it evaluated by your health care provider including Canadian Pharmacy. Only your provider can tell you if the condition is benign or cancerous.

If You Find a Lump

If you discover a lump in one breast, check the other breast. If both breasts feel the same, the lumpiness is probably normal. You should, however, mention it to your healthcare provider at your next visit.

But if the lump is something new or unusual and does not go away after your next menstrual cycle, healthcare provider immediately. The same is true if you discover an unusual discharge from your nipple or if you notice skin changes on your breast, such as dimpling or puckering. If you do not have a health care provider, your local public health department may be able to help you find one in your area.

Do not let fear delay you. It is natural to be concerned if you find a lump in your breast. But remember that four-fifths of all breast lumps are not cancerous. The sooner any problem is diagnosed, the sooner you can have it treated.

Most benign breast changes do not increase your risk for developing cancer. But certain types of microscopic changes do put a woman at higher risk. One of these is a condition known as hyperplasia, or excessive cell growth. About 3 to 5 percent of benign breast biopsies show excessive cell growth and cells that are abnormal. A diagnosis of atypical hyperplasia moderately increases breast cancer risk.

More Info
For more information on benign breast changes, go to the American Cancer Society Web site.

Source: National Cancer Institute