Breast lumps are common, but it’s important to get any lump in your breast checked by a doctor - don’t let fear delay you.
Most breast lumps are harmless and are not a sign of cancer, but being aware of any changes in your breasts can make all the difference.
In the unlikely event that your symptoms do turn out to be cancer, early diagnosis and treatment is key to making a complete recovery.
What can cause breast lumps?
Most breast lumps can’t be prevented and can be caused by many things. For example, you may have:
- a fluid-filled lump (cyst) – these can be caused by changes in hormone levels and are most common in women who still have periods and those having hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
- a solid lump (fibroadenoma) - these can be caused by changes in hormone levels and are more common in young women
- inflammation of the breast (mastitis) – sometimes be caused by breastfeeding
- nipple discharge - this can be caused by breastfeeding, a blocked milk duct, a breast infection or the side-effects of certain medication
- injured the breast
- scarring of the breast due to previous surgeries
- a hard, uneven lump often caused by trauma or bruising to the breast (fat necrosis)
- a harmless fatty growth that causes a lump (lipoma)
- a collection of pus under the skin (breast abscess)
- a growth in a milk duct, which may lead to nipple discharge (intraductal papilloma)
- a blood clot (haematoma)
The above reasons are usually nothing to worry about, but if you feel a lump in your breast of any kind you should always get it checked by a doctor.
When else should I get my breasts checked by a doctor?
As well as lumps, you should keep an eye on any other changes to your breasts. For example, ask yourself regularly:
- Have you noticed a change in the size or shape of your breasts?
- Do you have pain that won’t go away in one part of your breast or armpit?
- Are there any dimples, wrinkles or small folds on your breast?
- Is there any redness on your breast or a rash around the nipple area?
- Has your nipple changed shape or position?
- Has fluid come out of one or both nipples?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you should visit a doctor as soon as possible.
What will the doctor do?
A doctor will examine your breasts and ask questions about your symptoms and family history. They may suggest you go for further tests in hospital or at a breast care clinic.
Depending on your age and symptoms, you may have the following tests:
- a mammogram - this is an X-ray of the breast
- an ultrasound - this gives an image of the inside of the breast
- a biopsy - when a sample of cells is taken from your breast lump and sent to a laboratory for testing
These tests should confirm what type of breast lump you have.
If the doctor doesn’t refer you for tests, ask them to explain why.
They may ask you to return in a week or 2 if things don’t improve, but go back sooner if your symptoms get worse.
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