It is important to understand that there are many other causes of lumps in the breast, so if a lump develops, particularly in a young woman, the chances are that it is NOT a cancer. Fewer than one breast lump in ten seen by a doctor proves to be malignant/[def]. The most important method of detecting breast cancer and lumps is self-examination by the woman. All women should be taught how to check their breasts for lumps by a doctor, and should perform this easy procedure every month.
After examining the breast, a general practitioner may arrange for an x-ray mammogram, ultrasound scan of the breast or a needle biopsy. These tests show the inside structure of the breast and can sometimes differentiate between cysts, cancers and fibrous lumps. If all the features of the examination and investigations in a young woman indicate that the lump is [def]benign, it is safe to watch the lump, with regular checks by a doctor, because many disappear after a few months.
In an older woman, or if the lump persists, it should be removed by a small operation. In the majority of cases this is the only treatment necessary, and the scar should be almost invisible on even the most liberated beaches. If the lump is found to be cancerous, a more extensive operation may be necessary.
The earlier a cancer is diagnosed, the better the chance of cure, so surgeons have good reason for advising removal of a lump which appears to be benign, rather than waiting until an obvious cancer appears.
Infections in the breast (mastitis), particularly during breastfeeding, will cause hard, tender, painful, red lumps. Blocked milk ducts during breastfeeding might also be felt as a lump. If not cleared rapidly, mastitis is a possibility.
Other causes of breast lumps include:
- cystadenoma (a benign cystic tumour involving glandular tissue),
- a mucocoele (mucus filled cyst),
- over stimulation of the breast by hormones (e.g. hormone replacement therapy, contraceptive pill, pregnancy),
- collections of fibrous tissue (fibroadenoma),
- mammary dysplasia (a pre-cancerous condition),
- a blood clot in a breast vein (Mondor disease),
- lumps of scar tissue in damaged fat caused by an injury to the breast.