What Is a Fibroadenoma?

If your doctor has told you that you have a “fibroadenoma” in your breast, don’t panic. It’s not cancer.

These lumps are the most common breast lump in young women. Many times, they will shrink and disappear with no treatment. In other cases, doctors can remove it with a quick procedure in their office.

You Might Not Know It's There

A fibroadenoma is a benign, or noncancerous, breast tumor. Unlike a breast cancer, which grows larger over time and can spread to other organs, a fibroadenoma remains in the breast tissue.

They’re pretty small, too. Most are only 1 or 2 centimeters in size. It’s very rare for them to get larger than 5 centimeters across.

Usually, a fibroadenoma won’t cause any pain. It will feel like a marble that moves around beneath your skin. You may describe the texture as firm, smooth, or rubbery. In some cases, though, you won’t even be able to feel it at all.

Causes

Doctors don’t know what causes fibroadenomas. They may be related to changing levels of hormones, since they often appear during puberty or pregnancy and go away after menopause.

Symptoms

Since they’re usually painless, you might not notice one until you feel a lump while you’re in the shower or if you do a breast self-exam.

Other times, a doctor may notice a fibroadenoma before you do, either during a routine physical or a mammogram or other scan.

Unlike breast cancer, a fibroadenoma does not cause nipple discharge, swelling, redness, or skin irritation around the breast.

Who Gets Them?

Fibroadenomas are very common. About 10% of women have one of these breast lumps, often without ever knowing.

They most often appear in women between the ages of 15 and 35, or during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Some researchers have found that women with a family history of breast cancer are more likely to get fibroadenomas.

Most women only have one. But about 10% to 15% of women who get them have more than one, either simultaneously or over time.

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Diagnosis

If you find a lump in your breast, you should see your doctor. You can’t tell for sure what it is by how it feels.

Your doctor will likely feel the lump so he can gauge its texture and size. Even if he thinks that it might be a fibroadenoma, he’ll recommend that you get more tests to confirm it.

You may get an ultrasound or a mammogram, depending on your age and whether you’re pregnant. Both are quick scans that you’ll get in the doctor’s office.

A radiologist will then check the images of your breast tissue to see if it’s most likely a fibroadenoma or another type of breast tumor.

The only way for a doctor to get know for sure that it’s a fibroadenoma is through a biopsy, which means taking a sample of the lump to test in a lab. Based on the results of your examination and scan, your doctor will decide whether he needs to get extra confirmation from a biopsy. To do a biopsy, a doctor will insert a thin needle into your breast and pull out a small section of the lump.

Treatment

You might not need any treatment. If your fibroadenoma is small, your doctor may recommend simply waiting to see whether the lump grows or shrinks rather than trying to remove it right away.

Similarly, if you develop a fibroadenoma during pregnancy or while breastfeeding, your doctor might wait until your hormone levels return to normal levels to see if the lump disappears on its own.

If you’ve had more than one fibroadenoma removed in the past, and tests confirmed that that’s what they were, your doctor also may delay removing any new lumps.

If your fibroadenoma gets larger, your doctor suspects that it might, or he isn’t sure whether a lump is a fibroadenoma or not, he will likely recommend removing any lumps. This will allow him to confirm that a lump isn’t cancer and that it doesn’t grow and distort the surrounding breast tissue.

Depending on the size and location and number of fibroadenomas, doctors have several ways to take them out:

A lumpectomyor excisional biopsy is a short surgery to remove a fibroadenoma.

In a cryoablation, a doctor can see your fibroadenoma by using an ultrasound machine while holding a probe against your skin. The probe, called a cryoprobe, freezes the nearby tissue, destroying the fibroadenoma without surgery.

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Follow-Up Care

For most women, you won’t need anything beyond your routine screening tests. Continue to get any breast changes checked out by your doctor.

If your fibroadenoma was “simple” -- just a lump with no cysts, hardening, or unusual changes -- it doesn’t make you more likely to get breast cancer. But if yours was “complex,” it might mean a slightly higher risk of breast cancer later on. Unless you have other risk factors -- like close family members with breast cancer -- your risk is still very low.

Either way, keep up with your regular checkups, and ask your doctor which screening tests you need and when.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Lisa Bernstein, MD on March 13, 2016

Sources

SOURCES:

Mayo Clinic: “Fibroadenoma.”

American Cancer Society: “Fibroadenomas.”

Kaufman, C. Journal of the American College of Surgeons, June 2004.

Greenberg, R. Journal of General Internal Medicine, September 1998.

Medscape: “Breast Fibroadenoma Imaging.”

Merck Manuals: “Fibroadenomas.”

American Society of Breast Surgeons: “Management of Fibroadenomas of the Breast.”

Dupont, W. New England Journal of Medicine, July 1994.

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