What is the difference between a hard lump and a moving lump in your chest? Find out what the size and mobility of breast lumps can mean for your health and your risk of breast cancer.
You’re in the shower doing your monthly breast self-examination. Suddenly, your hand freezes. You found a growth. And now ?
First of all, don’t panic: 80 to 85% of lumps are benign. That is, they are not cancerous, especially in women under 40. Also, if you’re old enough to have regular mammograms and they come back negative, chances are the palpable (feel) lump isn’t cancer.
But how to be sure? How do you tell the difference between a lump that is breast cancer and a lump that is benign? And do they go away on their own?
- 1 Mass in the breast: is it normal or abnormal?
- 2 Does the mass “roll” or not?
- 3 Another rule of thumb concerns pain
- 4 A variety of benign breast lumps and conditions
- 5 Here are the most common benign breast conditions:
- 6 If you find a breast lump
Mass in the breast: is it normal or abnormal?
Your breasts are made up of fat, nerves, blood vessels, fibrous connective tissue, and glandular tissue. As well as a complex milk production system made up of lobules (where milk is produced) and ducts (the thin tubes that carry milk to the nipple). This anatomy in itself creates rough, lumpy terrain.
A breast lump stands out against this background of normal irregularities. A harmless breast lump may be solid and still like a dried bean, or there may be a moving lump in your breast, soft and filled with fluid, rolling between your fingers like a grape. It can be a pea-sized lump, smaller than a pea, or even several centimeters in diameter, although this larger size is rare.
Does the mass “roll” or not?
While the size of the lumps varies from case to case depending on the stage of the disease, what usually differentiates a benign lump from a cancerous lump is movement. In other words, a fluid-filled lump that rolls between the fingers is less likely to be cancerous than a hard lump that takes root in the breast.
This does not mean that all benign growths move and all cancerous growths do not move. While this is a good rule of thumb, the only way to be sure is to seek the wisdom of your doctor and undergo specialist medical testing. Such as an ultrasound, mammogram, or fine needle aspiration (FNA), in which your doctor uses a tiny needle to extract a piece of the lump for a biopsy or lab examination.
Another rule of thumb concerns pain
Breast cancer is usually not accompanied by pain. But mild ailments often are, although there are also exceptions to this rule.
Not all benign breast lumps require additional testing. If you find what appears to be a fluid-filled cyst during your period, your doctor may want to examine your breast again at the end of your period to see if the cyst is gone. If the cyst goes away, you and your doctor will know that your lump was indeed benign and related to hormonal fluctuations associated with menstruation.
A variety of benign breast lumps and conditions
Most benign breast lumps and conditions are directly related to your menstrual cycle, fluctuations in your hormones, and the buildup of fluid that accompanies your period. Due to fluctuations in breast tissue that occur in response to your hormones, it’s usually a good idea to do a self-exam at the same time each month, such as a few days after your menstrual cycle ends.
Other benign breast lumps and conditions can be linked to clogged milk ducts, infections, or even injuries to the breasts.
Here are the most common benign breast conditions:
A general lump that can be described as ‘corpulent’ or ‘grainy’, these lumps are the most common benign breast conditions. They affect at least half of women. Symptoms of a fibrocystic change include tender, fibrous, rubbery tissue, thickening of the tissue, or a round, fluid-filled cyst. These changes, related to hormonal fluctuations, may increase as you approach middle age and then disappear with menopause.
Sometimes your doctor will recommend that you limit your salt and caffeine intake to reduce fluid buildup. Although the available data suggests that these measures are useful.
In relation to fibrocystic changes, cysts are round or oval sacs, measuring 1 to 2 inches in diameter. They are sensitive to the touch and filled with liquid. They can come and go with your period, get larger and more sensitive at the start of your period, and go away at the end. In very rare cases, when a cyst is particularly large or painful, your doctor may use a needle to remove and reduce the fluid inside. Cysts usually affect women between the ages of 35 and 50.
They occur in young girls and women in their teens and twenties. Fibroadenomas are more common in those who take contraceptives before the age of 20. The size of this benign tumor varies from microscopic to several centimeters in diameter. It is mobile under the skin, round and hard like a marble, and can be identified by FNA or biopsy, or by removal of the lump. If the fibroadenoma shrinks or does not grow over time, and your doctor is sure of the diagnosis, they may decide to just leave it in place.
It occurs when fatty tissue in the breast is damaged by injury to the breast. Then resulting in the formation of round and firm lumps. It is more common in women with large breasts, especially in obese women. Your doctor will likely monitor the lump for several menstrual cycles and may decide to remove it surgically.
Women sometimes have nipple discharge with or without a lump in the breast. The color of nipple discharge, related to benign fibrocystic changes, can vary from yellow to green. A clear to milky discharge can mean hormonal dysfunction. Green-black discharge may be related to duct ectasia, narrowing or blockage of the duct. It may even look bloody, which may actually mean cancer. But it’s more than likely that a red discharge means an injury, infection, or benign tumor.
Infection of the milk duct, this condition can create a mass, red and hot, accompanied by fever. It most often occurs in women who are breastfeeding. But it can also occur in women who don’t. Treatment consists of using warm compresses and antibiotics. But since these symptoms are similar to those of inflammatory breast cancer, if they occur in a woman who is not breastfeeding, and especially if they do not go away with compresses and antibiotics, your doctor may order a biopsy.
Other Lesser-Known Conditions
Some medical conditions can also cause breast lumps. Especially:
– hyperplasia, an overgrowth of cells in the breast ducts or lobules
– adenosis, which causes hypertrophy of the lobules
– intraductal papilloma, a wart-like growth of glandular tissue that grows in the duct
– lipoma, which is a benign fatty tumor.
The risk of benign breast conditions increases for women who have never had children. As well as for those who have a history of irregular menstrual cycles or a family history of breast cancer.
If you find a breast lump
All breast lumps should be evaluated by a medical professional. It can help you decide what to do next. Most benign breast conditions can be treated, and some will even go away on their own. But it’s best to let your doctor tell you.