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Breast lumps

AGE  Risk factors depend on the causeGENDER  
LIFESTYLE  Risk factors depend on the causeGENETICS  Risk factors depend on the cause

Breast lumps are any masses or swellings that can be felt in the breast tissue.

Breast lumps
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Breast lumps are a common problem. Many women notice generalized breast lumpiness, especially when the breasts enlarge during puberty and pregnancy and before menstruation. This generalized lumpiness is usually a variation in normal breast development and does not increase the risk of breast cancer. A single, discrete breast lump may cause concern, but in fact only 1 in 10 breast lumps is due to cancer.

What are the causes of breast lumps?

Generalized lumpiness, often associated with breast tenderness, is thought to be related to the hormonal changes that occur during the menstrual cycle. The lumpiness usually becomes worse just before a period; the worsening may be due to oversensitivity of the breast tissue to female sex hormones at this time.

A discrete lump is often a fibroadenoma. This noncancerous lump is caused by overgrowth of one or more breast lobules (the structures that produce milk). Breast cysts are fluid-filled sacs in the breast tissue. There may be one or more cysts, and both breasts may be affected. Occasionally, a breast lump is caused by an infection that has developed into an abscess. A breast abscess may develop if mastitis is not treated, and may be associated with inflammation and localized pain. A lump may also be a symptom of breast cancer.

What might be done?

You should check your breasts regularly (see Breast self-examination), so that you become familiar with their normal appearance and texture. Consult your doctor if you notice a new lump or a change in an existing lump. He or she will probably give you a physical examination and will refer you to a breast clinic. At the clinic you will usually undergo triple assessment: examination by a doctor; breast imaging by ultrasound scanning and/or mammography; and aspiration of a breast lump, in which a sample of cells is taken from the lump and examined microscopically for the presence of cancerous cells.

Many noncancerous breast lumps do not need treatment. Generalized breast lumpiness tends to decrease after the menopause, but may continue if you take hormone replacement therapy. Breast cysts usually need to be drained. Modern screening techniques and treatments mean that breast cancer can often be diagnosed early and treated successfully. If a breast tumour is found, further treatment will be planned.

Posted 09.09.2010

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