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Benign Breast Lumps

During a breast self-exam, you find a lump. Now what?

If you notice any breast changes, you should notify your doctor right away, but don't panic. Eighty percent of all breast lumps are benign, which means they're not cancerous. Benign breast lumps usually have smooth edges and can be moved slightly when you push against them. They are often found in both breasts.

There are several common causes of benign breast lumps, including normal changes in breast tissue, breast infection or injury, and medicines that may cause lumps or breast pain.

Breast tissue changes during a woman's entire life. It is particularly sensitive to changing estrogen and progesterone hormone levels during the menstrual cycle.

What Are the Types of Benign Breast Conditions?

The types of benign breast conditions include:

  • Fibrocystic changes. For some women, fluctuations in hormones during normal monthly menstrual cycles can create changes in the breasts that are referred to as fibrocystic breast changes. Women with fibrocystic breasts usually experience lumps in both breasts that increase in size and tenderness just prior to menstrual bleeding. They occasionally have nipple discharge as well.
    The lumps are milk ducts and surrounding tissues that have grown and dilated to form cysts. The cysts rapidly enlarge in response to hormones released near menstruation. The lumps may be hard or rubbery and may be felt as a single (large or small) breast lump. Fibrocystic changes can also cause thickening of the breast tissue.
    Fibrocystic changes are often most noticeable during your 40s; in fact, these changes are the most common cause of benign breast lumps in women ages 35 to 50. Postmenopausal women are less likely to have these types of breast changes, because hormone stimulation of breast tissue no longer occurs.
  • Simple Cysts. Simple cysts are fluid-filled sacs that usually occur in both breasts. They can be single or multiple and can vary in size. Tenderness and lump size often change with the woman's menstrual cycle.
  • Fibroadenomas. Fibroadenomas are the most common benign tumors found in the female breast. They are solid, round, rubbery lumps that move freely in the breast when pushed upon and are usually painless. Fibroadenomas are the result of excess formation of lobules (milk-producing glands) and surrounding breast tissue. They occur most often between the ages of 20 and 30 and are more common in African-American women.
  • Intraductal papillomas. These are small, wart-like growths in the lining of the mammary duct near the nipple. They usually affect women 45 to 50 years of age and can produce bleeding from the nipple.
  • Traumatic fat necrosis. This condition occurs when there is trauma (sudden injury) to the breast, although most women don't recall a specific injury. This causes fat to form in lumps, which are generally round, firm, hard, single, and painless.
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