Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Women's Health

Font Size

Breast Problems - Topic Overview

Breast lumps or changes are a common health worry for most women. Women may have many kinds of breast lumps and other breast changes throughout their lives, including changes that occur with menstrual periods, pregnancy, and aging. Most breast lumps and breast changes are normal.

See a picture of the breast anatomy camera.gif.

Breast development is the first sign of puberty in young girls. Usually, breasts begin as small, tender bumps under one or both nipples that will get bigger over the next few years. It is not unusual for one breast to be larger than the other or for one side to develop before the other. A girl may worry that a lump under the nipple is abnormal or a sign of a serious medical problem when it is a part of normal breast development.

Common, noncancerous (benign) breast changes include:

Many women with breast pain or breast lumps worry about breast cancer.

The earlier breast cancer is detected, the more easily and successfully it can be treated.

There are two common methods of early detection:

  • Mammogram. A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast that can often find tumors that are too small for you or your doctor to feel. Experts do not agree about when or how often women should have mammograms. Some recommend that you begin screening at age 40, and some recommend that you begin screening at age 50. Your doctor may suggest that you have a screening mammogram at a younger age if you have risk factors for breast cancer.
  • Clinical breast examination (CBE). During your routine physical exam, your doctor may do a clinical breast exam. During a CBE, your doctor will carefully feel your breasts and under your arms to check for lumps or other unusual changes. Talk to your doctor about whether to have a clinical breast exam.

Breast self-examination (BSE) involves checking your breasts for lumps or changes while standing and lying in different positions and while looking at your breasts in a mirror. Once you know what your breasts normally look and feel like, any new lump or change in appearance should be evaluated by a doctor. Most breast problems or changes are not caused by cancer. But BSE should not be used in place of clinical breast examination and mammography. Studies have not shown that BSE alone reduces the number of deaths from breast cancer.

Early breast cancer is often seen on a mammogram before there are any symptoms. The most common symptom of breast cancer is a painless lump. But sometimes painful lumps are cancerous. Other symptoms of breast cancer include:

  • Skin changes, such as dimpling or puckering.
  • Changes in the color or feel of the breast.
  • Nipple discharge.
  • Darkening of the area around the nipple.
  • A nipple being drawn inward.
  • Any breast problem that lasts more than 2 weeks.
  • A breast lump in a man.
1|2

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: September 09, 2011
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
Next Article:

Today on WebMD

woman looking in mirror
Article
Woman resting on fitness ball
Evaluator
 
woman collapsed over laundry
Quiz
Public restroom door sign
Slideshow
 
Couple with troubles
Article
cat on couch
Evaluator
 
Young woman being vaccinated
Slideshow
woman holding hand to ear
Slideshow
 
Blood pressure check
Slideshow
mother and daughter talking
Evaluator
 
intimate couple
Article
puppy eating
Slideshow