Breast Lumps

Table of Contents

What are Breast Lumps?

A breast lump is when there is a growth of tissues inside the breast. The lumps may feel dense or contain fluids.

The appearance of breast lumps in most cases is benign or does not cause cancer. However, breast lumps may be a symptom of breast cancer.

Causes of Breast Lumps

The causes of breast lumps vary and are dependent on the type of breast lumps: 

Cysts

Cysts are fluid-filled lumps that grow on one or both breasts. Breast cysts are generally oval or round in shape. In some cases, cysts may feel sore and tender.

Breast cysts can appear due to the fluid buildup on the breast glands. The exact cause is still unknown, but it is believed that changes in female hormones contribute to it, especially during menstruation.

Fibroadenoma

Fibroadenoma is a type of benign breast tumor. Fibroadenoma commonly affects women in the age range of 20-30 years. Similar to cysts, fibroadenoma can also appear on both one and both breasts.

Fibroadenoma is divided into two different types. The first type is simple fibroadenoma or benign fibroadenoma, which does not cause cancer. The second type is complex fibroadenoma, which can cause breast cancer.

The exact cause of fibroadenoma is also unknown, but is suspected to be due to estrogen hormones or the use of birth control pills before the age of 20.

Fibrocystic breasts

Fibrocystic breast is a tissue that makes up ligaments or connective tissue between bones that grows abnormally until it becomes more prominent than fat tissue. This tissue is also known as fibrous tissue.

Fibrous tissue usually grows in women in the age group of 30-50 years. The exact cause is unknown, but it is thought to be caused by changes in the hormone estrogen.

Intraductal papilloma

Intraductal papilloma is a benign tumor that forms in a milk duct on the breast. The tumor is formed from blood vessels, glands, and fibrous tissue.

Intraductal papillomas are divided into two types. First, a single tumor (solitary intraductal papilloma) which is benign and usually grows in the area near the nipple. Meanwhile, tumors that can develop into cancer consist of multiple tumors (multiple papillomas).

Intraductal papillomas generally appear in women in the age range of 35 – 55 years.

Mastitis

Mastitis is a condition where breast tissue is inflamed. Mastitis is usually also characterised by an infection through a buildup of pus (abscesses) in the breast tissue.

The cause of mastitis is the entry of bacteria into the skin layer which then causes infection in the breast tissue. In addition, blockages of the ducts that carry breast milk from the breast gland to the nipple can also cause mastitis. This blockage makes breast milk settle in the breast, causing inflammation and infection.

Mastitis generally affects women who are breastfeeding, but it does not rule out women who are not breastfeeding, even men.

Lipoma

Lipomas are fat lumps that grow under the skin. Lipomas can grow not only in the breast area, but also in any part of the body such as the neck, shoulders, back and abdomen.

In general, lipomas are benign and do not trigger cancer. If the size becomes larger and obvious, removal can be done. Lipoma usually affects people in the age range of 40-60 years, although it does not rule out all ages.

Fat necrosis

Fat necrosis is a condition in which the fat glands in the breast are damaged due to injury. Generally, fat necrosis is a complication or side effect of surgery or radiation therapy to the breast.

When to See a Doctor for Breast Lumps

To determine if breast lumps are harmful, it is recommended that you consult your doctor.  Your doctor may require information ranging from the symptoms experienced and when the lump appears.

Then, the doctor will perform a physical examination of the patient’s breast to find out the location of the lump. Generally, breast lump examination is accompanied by a number of supporting examinations to ensure the level of tameness of the breast lump.

Below are some common breast lump exams and procedures: 

Mammography 

Mammography uses an X-ray to examine your breast. Mammography is done by pressing the breast with the aim of making clear images of the breast tissue. Mammography results can show abnormalities in the breast such as dense tissue in the breast, tumors, or calcium buildup.

Even if you do not have a lump in your breast, you are still advised to have a mammography once a year on a regular basis, especially if you are over 40 years and have a family history of breast cancer.

Ultrasound

Ultrasound is done by using sound waves and produces the final result of an image showing the condition of your body. Breast ultrasound can distinguish whether the lump in the breast is dense or contains fluid.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

MRI is done to examine internal limbs using sound waves and magnetic fields as well as a computer. In breast exams, MRI can provide information about breast conditions that cannot be obtained from other tests, such as mammography and ultrasound.

An MRI is usually performed after a cancer-positive biopsy result. Through an MRI, the severity of the cancer will be identified. In addition, MRI is also recommended if you have very dense breast tissue, but it cannot be detected by a mammogram.

Ductography

Ductography is done by using an X-ray image machine to take pictures of the breast glands. Ductography can specifically identify the cause of nipple discharge. 

Biopsy

Biopsy is done by taking a sample of a lump or even a whole lump. The sample will then be sent to the laboratory for testing. 

Breast biopsy has several methods: surgical biopsy, vacuum-assisted biopsy, core needle biopsy, and fine-needle aspiration biopsy.

Symptoms of Breast Lumps

Before a breast lump appears, you may usually experience the following symptoms:

  • Breast tenderness
  • Swollen breasts
  • Changes in breast shape
  • Breasts feel warm when touched
  • Itchy and sensitive nipples
  • Nipple discharge
  • Tiredness
  • Fever

Although different in types, breast lumps have general characteristics, such as: 

  • Size varies – can be less or more than 5 cm, but can also grow larger over time
  • Shapes can be oval or round
  • When touched, the lump can feel soft, chewy, or dense
  • Appearance of single or multiple lumps in either one or both breasts
  • Changes in shapes: enlarged shortly before menstruation and return to its original size after the menstrual period ends. 

Treatment for Breast Lumps

Breast lumps do not require special treatment, especially if they are harmless. In some cases, breast lumps disappear by themselves. However, if the lump is getting bigger or causing pain, you need to consult a doctor immediately.

Treatment methods for breast lumps vary and depend on the type of lump, including:

Lumpectomy

Lumpectomy is a procedure to remove the tumor and a little of the surrounding tissue by making an incision around the tumor area. You may be given a local anesthetic shortly before the lumpectomy begins. This procedure is suitable for women who have a breast lump with a diameter of less than 5 cm.

Cryotherapy 

Cryotherapy uses extreme cold to freeze cancer cells by injecting a special needle that contains liquid nitrogen into the tumor area.  

Fine-needle aspiration

Fine-needle aspiration is a procedure to remove fluid from breast lumps. The fluid is drained by placing a special needle in the area of the lump, which is also assisted by an ultrasound for proper placement. 

In addition to the three methods above, there are several other methods that may be done by your doctor, such as giving birth control pills to lower estrogen hormone levels, administering antibiotics and painkillers, and so on.

Treatment Cost for Breast Lumps

Treatment costs for breast lump vary greatly, depending on your choice of hospital, and type of exams you should undergo. To find out the estimated treatment cost for breast lump, hospital recommendations, and making doctor’s appointments, contact Smarter Health.

Prevention of Breast Lumps

Breast lumps cannot be prevented as they are caused by hormonal changes or inherited diseases. However, it is advised for you to check your breasts on your own to help you identify ways to treat breast lumps – if they do appear. 

Follow these steps to perform a self-breast exam: 

  • During the 7-10 days after the first day of menstruation, observe your breasts in the mirror to watch for any changes in shapes, sizes, skin color or the surface
  • Bend your elbows and position your hands behind your neck then push your elbows forward and back to observe the shape of the breasts.
  • Feel your breasts using your index finger, middle finger, and ring finger pressed together. Make a gentle circular motion from the outside of the breast to the inside and touch the nipples.
  • When bathing, position your right hand behind your head and check your right breast with your left hand in a circular motion, starting from the nipple area to the outer breast area. Perform the same steps on your left breast. You can also do this while lying down. 
  • Press on the nipple and watch for any abnormal discharge coming out of the nipple.

Repeat these steps once a month for optimal breast lump prevention.

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