You found a lump in your breast?
First – don’t panic! I know you want to but take a deep breath and read on.
80-85% of all breast lumps are NOT cancerous. Good news for sure. And if you are at the age where you get annual mammograms then the percentages rise even more in your favor.
Your breasts are made up of fat, nerves, blood vessels, fibrous connective tissue, and glandular tissue, as well as an intricate milk-producing system of lobules (where the milk is made) and ducts (the thin tubes that carry milk to the nipple). This anatomy in and of itself creates a lumpy, uneven terrain.
A breast lump, however, distinguishes itself from this background of “normal” irregularities: A breast lump can be solid and unmovable like a dried bean, or soft and fluid-filled, rolling between your fingers like a grape. It can be smaller than a pea or several inches across, although this larger size is rare.
Meanwhile, what typically differentiates a benign breast lump from a cancerous breast lump is movement. A fluid-filled lump that rolls between the fingers is less likely to be cancer than a lump that is hard and rooted to the breast.
This is not to say all benign lumps move and all cancerous lumps don’t. While this is a good rule of thumb, the only way to know for sure is through the wisdom of your doctor and specialized medical tests, such as an ultrasound, a mammogram, or a fine needle aspiration, in which your doctor uses a tiny needle to extract a bit of the lump for a biopsy, or laboratory examination. Another rule of thumb has to do with pain. Breast cancer does not usually present pain, but benign conditions often do, although there are exceptions to this as well.
Not all benign breast lumps will require additional testing, by the way. If you find what appears to be a fluid-filled cyst during your menstrual period, your doctor may want to check your breast again at the end of your period to see if the cyst has disappeared. If the cyst goes away, you and your doctor will know your lump was indeed benign and related to the hormonal fluctuations associated with menstruation.
All breast lumps should be evaluated by a medical professional, who will help you decide how to proceed. Most benign breast conditions are treatable, and some will even go away on their own, but it’s best to let your doctor be the one to tell you that.