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Women's Health

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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.

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:

If a woman has breast implants, there could be changes in the implant over time. Normal activity or an injury to the breast can damage the implant, causing it to leak, deflate, or rupture. The implant may harden, develop ripples, shift position, or change shape. The implant may need to be removed and replaced if any of these changes occur.

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

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.
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