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Adenosis – Enlarged Breast Lobules

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Updated June 08, 2010

What is Adenosis?:

Adenosis is a benign breast condition that occurs in your lobes. Lobes are at the root of your milk-producing system. Each lobe contains many smaller parts called lobules, and lobules hold bulbs that actually produce breast milk. When your lobules contain more bulbs than usual, they are larger than normal. This condition of enlarged lobules is called adenosis, a kind of fibrocystic change in the breast. If several enlarged lobules are close together, you may be able to feel them.

What does Adenosis Feel Like?:

Adenosis may not be detectable during a breast self-exam or a clinical breast exam, because it may be small and not near the skin. But when adenosis occurs in several lobules in a group, you may feel a lumpy area. This kind of lump can feel like a cyst, fibroadenoma, or even a tumor.

Getting a Clear Diagnosis:

Calcifications can show up in adenosis, sclerosing adenosis, and cancerous tumors. So having a mammogram or ultrasound may not clear up the identification of that lumpy area if it's just adenosis. A clinical breast exam won't give you a conclusive diagnosis, because this kind of lump feels so similar to a hard tumor. Only a tissue sample – taken with a biopsy – can clearly diagnose adenosis.

Types of Adenosis:

Adenosis in the breast is also called mammary adenosis, aggregate adenosis, tumoral adenosis, or adenosis tumor. Despite the term "tumor" here, this type of condition is benign (non-cancerous). One kind of adenosis is called sclerosing adenosis. If enlarged lobules are being distorted, or pulled out of shape, by scar-like fibrous tissue, it is referred to as sclerosing adenosis.

Does Adenosis Show up on a Mammogram?:

Breast adenosis can show up on a mammogram, but because it can be associated with calcifications, like a cancerous tumor, it cannot be distinguished from cancer by doing a visual exam. A sample of tissue (biopsy) must be taken and tested, to get a clear diagnosis.

How is Adenosis Treated?:

Because adenosis is a benign condition, no treatment is necessary. If it becomes painful, you might try wearing a bra with good support, or using ibuprofen. For some women, avoiding caffeine in drinks and chocolate reduces fibrocystic swelling and pain. If none of these strategies bring you relief from breast discomfort, visit your doctor again to get help.

Adenosis and Increased Risk of Breast Cancer:

If you are diagnosed with sclerosing adenosis, you do have an increased risk for developing breast cancer. The American Cancer Society reports that women with sclerosing adenosis have about 1.5 to 2 times the risk of women with no breast changes. This is the same risk as women who have usual hyperplasia (without atypia).
Source:
American Cancer Society. Non-Cancerous Breast Conditions. Adenosis. Revised: 09/26/2006.

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