Non-cancerous Breast Conditions

Benign breast conditions are very common, and many women experience them.

These breast changes are not life-threatening, however some may be associated with a higher risk of eventually getting breast cancer.

There are many different types of benign breast conditions. Even though they are non-cancerous, some may require treatment. It is important to have them evaluated by a breast health professional to ensure proper assessment, develop treatment strategies if necessary, and plan ongoing screening and surveillance activities. Following are a few of the benign breast conditions commonly seen and treated by our breast specialists:

Hyperplasia

Hyperplasia is an overgrowth of cells that occurs most often on the inside lining of the lobules or milk ducts in the breast. There are two primary types of hyperplasia, referred to as usual and atypical. Both can increase the risk of developing breast cancer, but atypical hyperplasia is associated with a higher risk.

Cysts

Breast cysts are fluid-filled sacs that are common in women before menopause. They are almost always benign, and they do not increase the risk of breast cancer. Most cysts do not require treatment. They are less common after menopause.

Fibroadenomas

Fibroadenomas are solid benign tumors and are very common. A fibroadenoma usually does not require removal unless it becomes large or causes discomfort. These tumors occur most frequently in women ages 15-35 and generally do not increase breast cancer risk.

Intraductal papillomas

Occurring in the milk ducts of the breasts, intraductal papillomas are small growths that are usually located close to the nipple. They can cause pain as well as a discharge from the nipple, and the patient may feel a lump in the breast. They occur most often in women ages 35-55. Patients with only one intraductal papilloma are not at a higher risk of breast cancer unless abnormal cells are found or there is cancer in the nearby tissue. Patients with five or more intraductal papillomas may have an increased risk.

Sclerosing adenosis

Sclerosing adenosis consists of small breast lumps located in a lobule, a milk-producing gland of the breast. Patients may feel a lump and also experience pain, however the condition usually does not require treatment. Sclerosing adenosis may be found on a mammogram, and unfortunately, it may be mistaken for breast cancer. A biopsy may be required to check for cancer. There is no consensus on whether or not this condition increases breast cancer risk.

The above information presents some of the more common benign breast diseases. For more comprehensive information, including details on many other non-cancerous breast conditions, visit the American Cancer Society’s website.

 

Breast Pain

Breast pain is extremely common and occurs in women of all ages. The pain can be quite alarming and cause much anxiety in women who worry they may have breast cancer. However, breast pain by itself is usually not a symptom of the disease and is more commonly caused by a benign breast condition, chest wall pain, or other non-cancerous factors.

Our breast specialists are available to assess patients with breast pain to try and determine the cause.

This often involves taking a history of the of the pain episodes, including how often the pain occurs, how long it lasts, how severe it is and if it is linked to menstrual cycles. In the majority of cases, the pain is the result of normal changes in the breast. While gaining a better understanding of breast pain may not cure it, it does offer reassurance to patients that they do not have breast cancer. Our breast experts may also be able to offer strategies, treatments and suggestions for lifestyle changes to minimize or eliminate the discomfort.

Three main categories of breast pain have been identified:

Cyclical breast pain

Cyclical breast pain is associated with changing hormone levels that occur during a woman’s menstrual cycle. Hormonal changes can make the breast tissue more sensitive, which may trigger pain. Roughly two out of every three women will experience this type of breast pain at some point in their lives.

Non-cyclical breast pain

This pain is not linked to a woman’s menstrual cycle, and it can occur before and after menopause. Women may experience a continuous pain or the pain may be intermittent. The precise cause is unknown, but it may be associated with such factors as benign breast conditions, previous breast surgery, breast injury, having large breasts, or stress. Side effects from some antidepressant drugs and herbal remedies, such as ginseng, are also possible causes. 

Chest wall pain

Chest wall pain, also called extra-mammary pain, is pain that feels like it is coming from the breast, but actually originates somewhere else. A pulled muscle in the chest can cause breast pain in addition to pain in the ribs and chest wall. The pain may also be caused by another medical condition, such as gallstones.