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Know Your Breast Lumps

Harmless and Harmful Breast Lumps - Know the Difference

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Updated February 21, 2014

During a breast self-exam, you may notice lumps or a change in texture. Knowing the difference between harmless and harmful breast lumps is important to your health.

There are three kinds of benign breast lumps:

  • Cysts
  • Fibroadenomas
  • Pseudolumps

There is one type of malignant breast lump: Breast Cancer

Breast Lumps in Detail:

Breast Cysts:

What is it? This is a harmless (benign) fluid - filled sac of tissue. It can grow right within the breast tissue.

What does it feel like? This breast lump will feel smooth and squishy. If you are pressing on a cyst, it will have some give to it, like a water balloon. A cyst can move around and can change in size during your menstrual cycle.

Where is it? Breast cysts can be located near the surface, or deeper inside, close to your chest wall. If the cyst is closer to the surface, it is easy to find and easy to distinguish from other lumps. But if it is deeper inside, it's more difficult to distinguish it from other kinds of breast lumps, because when you press on it, you're actually trying to work through layers of breast tissue, which may be dense and firm.

Treatment: Your doctor can help you determine that a lump is a harmless cyst, by doing a fine needle aspiration with a syringe. This procedure removes the fluid from inside the cyst, which deflates and most likely will not return.

When does it appear? Commonly appears in women who are in their 30's, 40's and 50's. They are most often found in women who are nearing menopause.

Does it show up on a mammogram?
Yes. See what breast cysts look like on a mammogram.

Breast Fibroadenomas:

What is it? This is a benign group of cells that support other kinds of cells in your breast. These are made of fibrous and glandular tissues.

What does it feel like? This will feel like a round breast lump, and can be hard or firm. It can be moved around during a breast self-exam.

Where is it? These can be located near the surface of the breast and are easily felt.

Treatment: A fibroadenoma can be removed, if needed, with a lumpectomy, a laser ablation,or cryoablation. If there is some doubt about the fibroadenoma, it can biopsied, to make sure that it is harmless.

When does it appear? Usually appears in teens and younger women. May occur during pregnancy. Not common in post-menopausal women.

Does it show up on a mammogram?
Yes. See a breast fibroadenoma on a mammogram.

Breast Pseudolumps:

What is it? These are benign, and may be scar tissue, hardened silicone, necrotic (dead) fat, or a rib bone pressing into breast tissue and compressing it.

What does it feel like? This kind of breast lump can feel quite hard and usually doesn't change shape or size during a menstrual cycle. It may or may not be movable, depending on what it is actually composed of.

Where is it? Pseudolumps can be located near the surface, or deeper inside the breast, close to the chest wall.

Treatment: To be sure that a pseudolump is harmless, get a mammogram and ultrasound, and if those are not clear, have a needle biopsy done, so that a tissue sample can be analyzed by a pathologist. If it is bothersome, you can have it surgically removed.

When does it appear? If you've previously had breast surgery or enhancement done, or if a rib has shifted, then a pseudolump may occur.

Can Pseudolumps Show up on a Mammogram?
Maybe. Find out more about breast pseudolumps and mammograms.

Breast Cancer:

What is it? A malignant lump that is made of abnormal breast tissue cells, growing in an uncontrolled way.

What does it feel like? A malignant breast lump will have an irregular shape (not round) with a pebbly surface, somewhat like a golf ball. It will be very hard, like a slice of raw carrot. It may not be movable during a breast self-exam, but since tissue around it may move, it's sometimes hard to know if the lump is moving, or if healthy tissue around it is moving. A clinical breast exam and a mammogram will help to clear up the diagnosis. A needle biopsy would provide more information about the lump.

Where is it? Breast cancer can be located near the surface, or deeper inside the breast, close to the chest wall. It can also occur in the armpit area, where there is more breast tissue.

Treatment: The lump itself may be treated with one, or a combination of therapies: surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and hormone suppression therapy. Talking with your doctor will help you decide on the best treatment plan for your particular diagnosis.

When does it appear? Breast cancer may appear in women who are pubescent, in their fertile years, peri-menopausal, or postmenopausal.

Can breast cancer show up on a mammogram?
Yes. See what breast tumors look like on a mammogram.

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Related Video
Getting a Breast Biopsy
Signs of Breast Cancer
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