Common Breast Lumps
What are some common types of noncancer (benign) breast lumps?
Two of the most common causes of noncancer (benign) single breast lumps are cysts
and fibroadenomas. There are also several other conditions that can look like lumps,
such as fat necrosis and sclerosing adenosis.
What is a cyst?
A cyst is a fluid-filled sac. A cyst can develop in the breast tissue and is most
common in people nearing menopause. Cysts often enlarge and become sore just before
the menstrual period. They may seem to appear overnight. Cysts are rarely cancer (malignant).
They 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. They are smooth on the outside, but fluid-filled on
the inside. But when a cyst is deep within the breast tissue, it will feel like a
hard lump. This is because it is covered with tissue.
How are cysts diagnosed and treated?
Your healthcare provider may identify a lump as a cyst by physical exam. But many
healthcare providers confirm the diagnosis by mammography or ultrasound exam. The
provider may then do a fine-needle aspiration as the next step in diagnosing the cyst.
This procedure is done by guiding a very thin needle into the cyst and drawing fluid
from it. This procedure also serves as the treatment for this condition. That’s because
once the fluid is removed, the cyst collapses and disappears. Cysts can reappear at
a later date. If that happens, they are simply drained again.
What is a fibroadenoma?
Fibroadenomas are solid, smooth, firm, benign lumps. They are the most common benign
lumps. They can occur in people of any age. But they are most often found in people
in their 20s and 30s. They are also seen more often now in postmenopausal people who
are taking hormone therapy.
The painless lump feels rubbery, moves around freely, and very often is found by the
people themselves. Fibroadenomas vary in size and can grow anywhere in the breast
How are fibroadenomas diagnosed and treated?
Most healthcare providers can recognize this type of lump simply by feeling it. But
the diagnosis is confirmed by a test. This may be mammography or ultrasound and fine-needle
aspiration. In very young adults, a fibroadenoma may not be removed. But sometimes
these tumors enlarge with pregnancy and breastfeeding. So healthcare providers may
advise surgery to remove the fibroadenoma.
Most fibroadenomas don’t lead to cancer. But there is a type of fibroadenoma that
has been linked to a slightly increased risk of cancer. This is more a risk for people
with a family history of the disease.
What is fat necrosis?
Fat necrosis is when painless, round, firm lumps caused by damaged fatty tissues form
in the breast tissue. Fat necrosis often occurs in people with very large breasts.
Or it may happen after a bruise or blow to the breast. This condition may also be
the result of a lumpectomy and radiation from a past cancer lump. In some cases, healthcare
providers will watch the lump through several menstrual cycles. They may do a mammogram
before deciding whether to remove it. These lumps are not cancer. They do not increase
a person's risk of cancer.
What is sclerosing adenosis?
Sclerosing adenosis is a breast condition that causes excess tissue growth in the
breast's lobules. This often causes breast pain. These changes in the breast tissue
are microscopic. But they may show up on mammograms as calcifications and can make
lumps. Usually a biopsy is needed to be sure this is not cancer. Because the condition
can be mistaken for cancer, the lumps are usually removed with surgery. Some studies
have found that women with sclerosing adenosis have a slightly higher risk of breast