If your doctor has told you that you have a fibroadenoma in your breast, don’t panic. It’s not cancer.
These lumps are one of the most common breast lumps in young women. Many times, they will shrink and disappear with no treatment. In other cases, doctors can remove them.
What Are Fibroadenomas?
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.
What Are the Symptoms of Fibroadenomas?
Since they’re usually painless, you might not notice one until you feel a lump while you’re in the shower or during a self breast exam.
Other times, a doctor might find it on a mammogram or ultrasound.
Unlike breast cancer, a fibroadenoma doesn’t cause nipple discharge, swelling, redness, or skin irritation around the breast.
What Causes Fibroadenomas?
Doctors don’t know what causes them. They may be related to changing levels of hormones, since they often appear during puberty or pregnancy and go away after menopause.
What Are the Types of Fibroadenomas?
There are a few different kinds:
- Simple fibroadenomas. They look the same all over when you view them under a microscope.
- Complex fibroadenomas. These are bigger and tend to affect older women. They might have cells that grow rapidly.
- Juvenile fibroadenomas. These are the most common type of breast lump found in girls and adolescents between the ages of 10 and 18. They can grow large, but most shrink over time. Some disappear.
- Giant fibroadenomas. They can grow to larger than 2 inches. They may need to be removed if they press on or replace other breast tissue.
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 at the same time or over time.
How Are Fibroadenomas Diagnosed?
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 they can gauge its texture and size. Even if they think it might be a fibroadenoma, they may 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 a fibroadenoma or something else.
The only way for a doctor to 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 they need 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 sample from the lump.
How Are Fibroadenomas Treated?
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 get a fibroadenoma during pregnancy or while breastfeeding, your doctor might wait until your hormone levels return to normal 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, the doctor suspects that it might, or they aren’t sure whether a lump is a fibroadenoma or not, they’ll likely recommend removing any lumps. This will help confirm that a lump isn’t cancer and that it doesn’t grow and distort the surrounding breast tissue.
Depending on the size, location, and number of fibroadenomas, doctors have several ways to take them out:
- Lumpectomy or excisional biopsy: This is a short surgery to remove a fibroadenoma.
- Cryoablation: The doctor uses an ultrasound machine to see your fibroadenoma. They’ll hold a tool called a cryoprobe against your skin. It uses a gas to freeze the nearby tissue, which destroys the fibroadenoma without surgery.
Most women won’t need anything beyond routine screening tests. They’ll continue to get any breast changes checked out by a doctor.
Having a simple fibroadenoma may raise your risk of breast cancer, compared with women without fibroadenomas. But if you had a fibroadenoma that was complex, it might mean a slightly higher risk of breast cancer later on. Unless you have other things that make breast cancer more likely, like close family members with the disease, your odds are still low.
Either way, keep up with your regular checkups, and ask your doctor which screening tests you need and when.