What you need to know about non-cancerous breast lumps and infections
Lumps in a woman’s breast arise for various reasons. Most women that come to the Women’s Health and Breast Center at the Al-Khalidi Hospital with breast lumps turn out to be benign (non-cancerous) and disappear within a short period.
The presence of a lump does not mean there is an abnormality; most often it can be a normal occurrence arising from a change in hormone levels or a fibroid mass.
The breast mouse (fibroadenoma)
The most common type of breast lump is called fibroadenoma, also known as the breast mouse because the lump moves to the touch. It is commonly found in women from ages 15 – 30 years. After the age of 40-50 years they tend to regress in size and disappear completely.
Symptoms & diagnosis
For teens and females in their early 20s, lumps are common and usually benign. Malignancy is uncommon for the breast in this age group.
The Women’s Health and Breast Center at the Al-Khalidi Hospital advises women over 40 to have annual mammograms. Early detection is key to a shortened and less invasive treatment plan and to a cure.
For women younger than 40, breast self-examination is recommended.
One of the symptoms of a fibroadenoma is feeling a lump that is enlarging. The fibroadenoma is usually not painful and is firm to the touch.
If you feel the lump has enlarged, it is best to visit your doctor. On examination, your doctor will diagnose the lump with an ultrasound scan.
Your doctor may ask you to repeat the ultrasound scan after six months to make sure it has not enlarged and is not causing trouble.
Some women have multiple lumps and they worry that they have transformed into cancer cells. Fibroadenoma is completely benign and does not transform into cancer cells. There have been some rare reports of the lump transforming into a cancer cell, but the reports are not conclusive.
No treatment for fibroadenoma
With a fibroadenoma you will not need treatment. There are two exceptions, however, when your doctor performs a biopsy or when your doctor surgically removes the lump.
- Normally a lump is less than 2 cm in size. If the lump is enlarging more than 3 cm in size, your doctor may do further treatment. This is not because it is dangerous, but some fibroadenomas tend to grow large in size and distort the breast shape.
- Sometimes your doctor may not be sure of the diagnosis with the ultrasound scan.
Glandular or lumpy breast
Lumpy breast is common in teenagers, women in their early 20s and women in their late 40s when they reach near menopause.
Lumpy breast is related to hormone activity. When women menstruate, the ovaries secrete hormones, which affect the growth of their breasts. This is why you may notice your breasts enlarging and becoming tender before your period. You may form a clear lump during this time.
Lumpy breast is a benign condition that is not serious and does not usually show on the scan. It is caused by the effect of the hormones and they disappear with time.
Inflammation and infection of the breast
Inflammation of the breast is a common occurrence. Sometimes it is associated with a bacterial infection.
You may have pain, tenderness and redness often localized to one area of the breast. If you have a severe infection, you may have swelling or bulging of the breast and systemic fever. This indicates some infection.
Infection can be caused by bacteria; inflammation means there is no bacteria, just inflammatory reaction.
There are many causes for breast infections or inflammations. Sometimes they happen during lactation. Some ladies feel pain, tenderness and redness. This can be treated with antibiotics.
If the inflammation is more advanced, an abscess might form that needs drainage. An abscess is a collection of puss. This is usually painful. Some inflammation forms around the ducts and it could become an inflammatory mass, an abscess, like any other infection. It can also happen without lactation, without a clear cause.
All breast infections are benign, not related to cancer and the treatment is through medication.
This information was provided by Consultant General Surgery & Surgical Oncologist at Al-Khalidi Women’s Health and Breast Center, Dr Basem Morcos.