About 40% of women will discover a breast lump at some point in their lives.
Although a lump doesn't necessarily mean cancer, what women do immediately
after that discovery can mean the difference between survival or not.
So what do you need to know if you find a breast lump? Four experts
interviewed by WebMD help separate myths from facts.
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Zunilda Guzman, 39, had both breasts and ovaries removed after learning she
had breast cancer and a high-risk gene.
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Diane Morgan, 71, offers advice on what friends should and shouldn't do
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This is a myth, thankfully, but a widespread one, says Stephen Sener, MD,
past president of the American Cancer Society and professor of surgery at the
University of Southern California's Keck School of Medicine in Los Angeles.
"Every woman [with a breast lump] thinks it's cancer until proven
otherwise," Sener says. "The older a woman is, the more petrified she is that
she is the one in seven or eight to get breast cancer," says Sener, referring
to a woman's lifetime risk of the cancer.
But some women shift to denial, says Laura Kruper, MD, a breast cancer
surgeon at the City of Hope Comprehensive Cancer Center in Duarte, Calif. They
will think cancer can't possibly be happening to them, she says. "Or they will
think they are too young."
The lump is more likely to be cancerous in older women who have gone through
menopause than in younger women, says Susan Love, MD, president of the Susan
Love Foundation, clinical professor of surgery at the University of California
Los Angeles David Geffen School of Medicine, and author of Dr. Susan
When a lump turns out not to be cancer, what else might it be? It could be a
cyst (a fluid-filled sac that can be drained), an abnormal noncancerous growth
such as a fibroadenoma or, much less often, a blood clot that causes lumpiness.
It could also be a "pseudo lump," caused by hormonal changes that isn't a lump
at all, says Love.
Whatever the cause, it's important to get any lump evaluated. Sener
recommends a physical examination, a mammogram, and perhaps an ultrasound.
"Most of the time you have a reasonable idea what is happening after that," he
says. Some women will need to get a biopsy.
2. Breast Cancer Is Always Accompanied by a Lump You Can Feel
Not necessarily, says Jennifer Eng-Wong, MD, a medical oncologist at
Georgetown University's Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center in Washington,
"Sometimes you pick up a cancer on a mammogram before you can feel [the
lump] she says. That's the norm. "Most cancers are picked up on screening
3. A Cancerous Lump Feels Different From a Benign Lump
Not always, says Eng-Wong. Cancerous lumps and noncancerous, or benign,
lumps, can overlap. When a lump is cancer, she says, women often assume it will
be a single lesion that feels hard and doesn't move around. That could be, she
says, but a cancerous breast lump could also feel smooth and be mobile, she