Understanding Breast Problems -- Diagnosis & Treatment

Medically Reviewed by Traci C. Johnson, MD on March 14, 2021

How Are Breast Problems Diagnosed?

First, your doctor will examine your breasts. You may have mammogram or ultrasound done to look for tiny lumps or other things that can’t be found in an exam.

For breast lumps, treatment and diagnosis are often related. For example, your doctor may insert a needle into a cyst and draw out fluid, both to examine the fluid and to get rid of the cyst. If the fluid is clear and the cyst disappears, your doctor will probably diagnose it as a benign cyst, and no further treatment is needed. Many doctors take the added precaution of having the fluid checked in a lab test. If a lump does not disappear and is still present after your next menstrual period, your doctor will want to re-examine you.

If the fluid from a suspected cyst is bloody, or if little or no fluid can be drawn out, this is a cause for concern, and you may need a biopsy to check for cancer.

Fibroadenomas can be diagnosed only by biopsy. Surgical removal, usually in a same-day surgical procedure, is considered the only treatment if they are large or painful, but treatment is not always necessary.

Nipple adenomas are surgically removed because they are sometimes associated with breast cancer.

Intraductal papillomas are surgically removed before they grow large enough to block the milk ducts.


What Are the Treatments for Breast Problems?

Nutrition and Diet

A high fat diet and alcohol can both increase the risk of breast cancer. And even though there is no proof that diet can cause tumors, studies have shown a relationship. For instance, avoiding caffeine may help shrink breast cysts. And limiting fat to less than 20% of your total daily calories may help shrink or eliminate lumps.

To prevent and treat monthly breast swelling, your doctor may tell you to maintain a healthy weight and eat a balanced diet. Because salt can make the breasts swell, eat less salt near your period. Avoiding caffeine and related substances, such as methylxanthines (found in chocolate and tea), can ease breast pain.

Some doctors suggest taking daily vitamin E supplements, in doses of up to 800 IU, to treat breast pain not caused by cancer. Evening primrose oil may provide some relief.


For breast pain or tenderness, your doctor may suggest aspirin, Tylenol, or ibuprofen. A mild water pill, also called a diuretic, can help remove fluid from swollen breasts.

If these treatments don't help, your doctor may prescribe a hormone such as danazol, which has been shown to ease breast pain. The cancer drug tamoxifen is also prescribed in rare cases. These drugs can have serious side effects. They are used rarely and only for severe symptoms. Do not use these drugs if you are trying to become pregnant.

Breast infections are treated with antibiotics. If you have an abscess, your doctor may also make a small incision to drain it. If this doesn't work, minor surgery is the next step.

Home Remedies

For pain relief, apply heat to the breast with a heating pad or hot water bottle for 20 to 30 minutes. If you are using a heating pad, be sure to follow manufacturer's instructions and do not fall asleep.

Your doctor may suggest wearing a bra or sports bra, even 24 hours a day, to reduce breast movement and lessen the discomfort until the tenderness passes.