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Breast Health Issues

Breast changes, including anything from a recent lump to nipple discharge, can be worrisome. While many women will experience completely harmless changes in their breasts at some point in their lives, it doesn’t mean that you should ignore your breast health and any abnormalities. Some changes could point to a serious condition such as breast cancer. Keep your breasts healthy by being aware of any irregularities and consulting your physician about any concerns.

  • Types

    • Fat necrosis and oil cysts — Fat necrosis is a noncancerous condition that occurs when fatty breast tissue is damaged. As the body repairs, oil cysts form instead of scar tissue necessary for healing.
    • Fibroadenomas — These noncancerous breast tumors feel like a marble inside the breast.
    • Intraductal papillomas — These noncancerous tumors, similar to a wart, grow inside the breast’s milk ducts. They can grow either in the large milk ducts close to the nipple, or in smaller ducts.
    • Lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) — This breast change causes cells similar to cancer cells to grow in the milk glands of the breast.
    • Mastitis — This inflammation in the breast is usually caused by infection. Mastitis mostly affects women who are breastfeeding when the milk ducts become clogged.
    • Simple cysts — A simple cyst is a fluid-filled sac inside the breast. These cysts are noncancerous and can worsen in different stages of your menstrual cycle.
  • Symptoms

    A breast health problem can cause:

    • Itching, scales or redness
    • Lumps or a mass
    • Nipple changes or discharge
    • Pain or tenderness
    • Thickness
  • Prevention

    • Be familiar with your breasts. Examine your breasts regularly so you’re familiar with how they look and feel. If you notice any changes, you’ll be able to discuss them with your doctor.
    • Talk to your healthcare provider about recommended screening options for early detection based on your age and family history.
    • Follow certain lifestyle changes to reduce your risk for breast cancer, such as maintaining a healthy weight, getting enough physical activity and avoiding alcohol.
  • Risk Factors

    The risk for benign breast conditions can be increased due to:

    • Family history of benign breast issues or breast cancer
    • Hormone therapy during menopause
    • Lifestyle factors, such as early alcohol use (during the teenage years)

    Breast cancer risk factors include:

    • Age, with most breast cancers diagnosed after 50
    • Beginning menstruation before 12 or entering menopause at 55 or older
    • Dense breasts
    • Family history of breast or ovarian cancer, particularly when it’s present in a first-degree relative such as mother, sister or daughter, or in multiple members of the same side of the family
    • Genetic mutations, such as those on the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes
    • Radiation therapy to the breasts or chest before 30
  • Diagnosis

    • Clinical breast exam. During this exam, your healthcare provider will check your breasts, nipples and underarms for any abnormal breast changes.
    • Medical history and symptom review. Your healthcare provider will ask for details about any ongoing symptoms. Your provider may ask if breast changes occur at specific times of the month and if there have been any changes to your birth control method or medications.
    • Diagnostic tests. For most abnormal breast changes, your physician will want to complete additional testing. This will vary based on your symptoms, but your provider may order an X-ray, ultrasound, mammogram or biopsy. This gives your provider a closer look at the problem to come up with an effective treatment plan.
  • Treatment

    Treatment for breast problems varies based on your diagnosis. For a small, noncancerous cyst, your physician may recommend waiting for it to go away over time if it causes no uncomfortable symptoms. Some breast issues, such as intraductal papillomas or fibroadenomas of the breast, may require surgery to remove the tumors. A breast cancer diagnosis will typically require chemotherapy, radiation, surgery or any number of other treatments.

  • Follow-up Care

    Any breast health issue should be monitored closely to ensure it doesn’t develop into something more serious. It’s important to keep any follow-up appointments and complete any additional testing.