Benign Breast Conditions: What You Need to Know

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Woman prepped for mammogram
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Finding a lump or experiencing unusual changes in your breasts can be stressful. However, many breast conditions that cause changes in the breasts are benign. That means they are not cancerous.

It's important to always tell your doctor about any lumps or changes in your breasts. Some benign breast conditions have the same symptoms as breast cancer. You may need tests to get the correct diagnosis.

Here are some common breast conditions that do not always mean cancer:

Lumps

Cancer is usually not the cause of lumps in the breast. This is often the case for younger women. 

There are many types of benign breast lumps. They include:

  • FibroadenomaThis is the most common type of solid lump in the breast. It's usually hard and round, like a marble. It moves freely in the breast when pushed. Most fibroadenomas do not require removal.

  • Cysts: These are lumps filled with fluid. Some women get cysts just before a menstrual period. Premenopausal women and those taking hormone therapy get them most often.

  • Fibrocystic breast disease: This is a combination of cysts and fibrosis (firmness in the connective tissues). It can cause lumpy areas or pain in one or both breasts. 

  • Fatty necrosis: This is the name for benign breast lumps caused by fatty tissue in the breast that becomes damaged after an injury or surgery.

Skin Changes

Redness or thickening of the skin of the breast may be a sign of infection. Mastitis is a common breast infection that women get while breastfeeding. It can make the breast red, warm and painful. Antibiotics can help. Fibrosis is a condition that can also affect the skin. It can cause it to thicken.

Always ask your doctor about any skin changes on your breast. This includes redness, thicker skin, or skin that looks pitted, like an orange. These changes should be checked out right away. A certain type of breast cancer, called inflammatory breast cancer, can look a lot like an infection. 

Breast Pain

A women’s menstrual cycle may cause pain in the breasts. This usually occurs in the week before bleeding starts. Also, infections, such as mastitis, can cause sudden pain or inflammation in the breasts.

Benign Breast Tumors

Benign breast tumors develop when breast cells grow faster than normal. These growths do not spread to other parts of the body, like cancer would. However, some conditions that cause benign breast tumors do increase the risk of breast cancer. They include papillomas and atypical hyperplasia. Both involve growths in the breast ducts. These conditions should be treated and watched carefully.

Nipple Discharge

Some noncancerous conditions can cause a discharge other than breast milk from the nipples. Fibrocystic changes are one example. Another is a change or imbalance in hormones. This can cause a milky discharge from the nipple in women who are not breastfeeding. Also, a condition called duct ectasia causes a thick or sticky, clear, yellow or green discharge from the nipple. The nipples also are tender. Sometimes a hard lump develops in the breast. Duct ectasia affects mostly women in their 40s and 50s. Be sure to talk to your doctor about any unusual nipple discharge.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Aug 4
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

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