Common Breast Lumps
What are some common types of benign (noncancerous) breast lumps?
Two of the most common causes of benign single breast lumps are cysts and fibroadenomas.
There are also several other conditions that can present themselves as lumps, such
as fat necrosis and sclerosing adenosis.
What is a cyst?
A cyst is a fluid-filled sac that develops in the breast tissue and is most common
in women approaching menopause. They often enlarge and become tender and painful just
before the menstrual period, and may seem to appear overnight. Cysts are rarely malignant
(cancerous) and may be caused by a blockage of breast glands.
Cysts can feel either soft or hard. When close to the surface of the breast, cysts
can feel like a large blister, smooth on the outside, but fluid-filled on the inside.
However, when they are deeply imbedded in breast tissue, a cyst will feel like a hard
lump because is covered with tissue.
How are cysts diagnosed and treated?
Your doctor may identify a lump as a cyst by physical exam, but many doctors confirm
the diagnosis by mammography or ultrasound exam. The doctor may then perform a fine-needle
aspiration as the next step in diagnosing the cyst. This procedure involves guiding
a very thin needle into the cyst and drawing fluid from it. This procedure also serves
as the treatment for this condition, as once the cyst is aspirated, it collapses and
disappears. Cysts can reappear at a later date, in which case they are simply drained
What is a fibroadenoma?
Fibroadenomas are solid, smooth, firm, benign lumps that are most commonly found in
women in their 20s and 30s. They are the most common benign lumps that occur in women
and can occur in women of any age. Increasingly, they are being seen in postmenopausal
women who are taking hormone therapy.
The painless lump feels rubbery, moves around freely, and very often is found by the
woman herself. Fibroadenomas vary in size and can grow anywhere in the breast tissue.
How are fibroadenomas diagnosed and treated?
While most doctors can recognize this type of lump simply by feeling it, generally,
the diagnosis is confirmed by mammography or ultrasound and fine-needle aspiration.
Sometimes, in very young women, the fibroadenoma is not removed. However, since sometimes
these tumors enlarge with pregnancy and breastfeeding, doctors may recommend surgically
removing the fibroadenoma.
While fibroadenoma does not lead to cancer, there is a type of fibroadenoma that has
been associated with a slightly increased risk of cancer, particularly in women with
a family history of the disease.
What is fat necrosis?
Fat necrosis is a condition in which painless, round, firm lumps caused by damaged
and disintegrating fatty tissues form in the breast tissue. Fat necrosis often occurs
in women with very large breasts or in response to a bruise or blow to the breast.
This condition may also be the result of a lumpectomy and radiation from a previous
cancerous lump. In some cases, doctors will watch the lump through several menstrual
cycles, and may perform a mammogram before deciding whether or not to remove it. These
lumps are not malignant and there is no reason to believe that they increase a woman's
risk of cancer.
What is sclerosing adenosis?
Sclerosing adenosis is a breast condition that involves excessive growth of tissues
in the breast's lobules, often resulting in breast pain. While these changes in the
breast tissue are microscopic, they may show up on mammograms as calcifications and
can produce lumps. Usually a biopsy is necessary to distinguish this condition from
cancer. In addition, because the condition can be mistaken for cancer, the lumps are
usually removed through surgical biopsy. Some studies have found that women with sclerosing
adenosis have a slightly increased risk of breast cancer.