Benign Breast Conditions


Most breast lumps are benign, as in fibroadenoma, a condition that affects mostly women under age 30. Fibrocystic breast disease is present in over 60% of all women. The cysts in FBD change in size with the menstrual cycle, whereas a lump from fibroadenoma does not. While most breast lumps are benign it is important to identify those that are not. If a lump is new, persistent, growing, hard, immobile and/or causing skin deformities, it should be evaluated by a health care professional.

What are benign breast conditions?
The breast is made up of two main types of tissue:

  • glandular tissue - the lobules and ducts of the breast
  • stromal tissue - the fatty tissue and supporting ligaments

These tissues in any area of the breast can undergo changes that cause diseases or disorders, such as breast cancers or benign (non-cancerous) breast conditions.

The most common of the benign breast conditions are:

  • fibrocystic changes
  • benign breast tumors
  • breast inflammation

Benign breast conditions are very common. According to the American Cancer Society, these conditions can be found in nine out of ten women.

What kind of changes should I look for?

Many changes in the breast aren't cancer, but here are some changes to look for. If you notice these or any changes in your breasts for more than two weeks, tell your doctor immediately.

  • Lump or mass in your breast
  • Enlarged lymph nodes in the armpit
  • Changes in breast size, shape, skin texture or color
  • Skin redness
  • Dimpling or puckering
  • Nipple changes or discharge
  • Scaliness
  • Nipple pulling to one side or a change in direction

Breast evaluation procedures:
It is important to determine whether the problems are due to benign breast conditions or breast cancer.

What you can do:

  • Follow the routine three-step plan for breast health.
  • See your doctor as soon as you notice any change in your breasts.

What your physician may do:

  • Perform a complete physical examination to:
    • locate any lump and feel its texture, size, and relationship to the skin and chest muscles
    • look for changes in the nipples or the skin of the breast
    • check lymph nodes under the armpit and above the collarbones
  • Request imaging tests, including:
    • diagnostic mammography to look for masses and calcifications
    • breast ultrasound to further evaluate information from the physical examination or mammography
  • Request a laboratory microscopic examination of discharge from nipples.
  • Request a ductogram X-ray of the nipples.
  • Request a biopsy of tissue removed from the suspicious area.

What are the types of biopsy?

  • image-guided biopsies - those aided by ultrasound or other imaging techniques, including:
    • fine needle aspiration - a very fine needle is guided into the suspicious area and a small sample of the tissue is removed.
    • core needle biopsy - a larger needle is guided into the lump to remove a small cylinder of tissue.
  • surgical biopsy - a surgical procedure is used to remove all or part of a lump.

How are benign breast conditions treated?
Specific treatment for benign breast disease will be determined based on:

  • your overall health and medical history
  • extent of the disease
  • your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • expectations for the course of the disease
  • your opinion or preference

Treatment is usually based on treating the symptoms, and may include medications, diet changes, or minor surgical procedures.