Being ‘breast aware’ means becoming familiar with the normal look and feel of your breasts and reporting any unusual breast changes to your doctor as soon as possible. For many women, breast health includes concerns about breast lumps, breast pain or nipple discharge.
General Breast Health
There are steps you can take today to impact your breast health tomorrow. Understanding breast development, breast facts and fiction, the role of family history, and methods of early detection are the keys to the healthiest you.
Benign Breast conditions
A benign breast condition refers to a lump, cyst, or nipple discharge (fluid) of the female or male breast that is not cancerous. There are numerous benign breast conditions. For women, the most common ones are:
Fibrocystic breast changes – Fibrosis feels like scar tissue and can be rubbery and firm. Cysts are sacs filled with fluid. They may enlarge and feel tender right before your period.
Fibroadenomas – These are the most common breast lumps in younger women and are usually very small.
Mastitis – Breast can become enlarged because of infection. This can happen to anyone but usually happens when breastfeeding.
Fat necrosis – These lumps form when areas of fatty breast tissue are damaged.
Calcification – Small spots of calcium salts can show up anywhere in breast tissue.
Nipple discharge – Fluid may leak from the nipple for a variety of reasons
Some benign breast conditions are painful. Some will be undetectable unless you feel a lump or your doctor sees it in a routine mammogram
A breast abscess is an infection in the breast. A non-lactational breast abscess is a breast abscess that occurs in a woman who is not pregnant or breastfeeding.
Non-lactational breast abscesses can be divided into two broad groups:
Peripheral (away from the nipple or nipple areolar complex)
Most peripheral breast abscesses are similar to infections elsewhere in the body and are managed similarly. These peripheral breast abscesses may be associated with underlying medical issues such as diabetes, or skin conditions like hidradenitis (clogged sweat glands), acne or trauma.
Areolar (near or behind the nipple or nipple areolar complex)
Areolar breast abscesses most commonly affect women 18-50 years. They are seen more often in smokers, obese patients and in patients with nipple piercing. A central cleft in the nipple is often seen in patients with areolar breast abscesses.
Breast cancer starts when cells in the breast begin to grow out of control. These cells usually form a tumor that can often be seen on an x-ray or felt as a lump. The tumor is malignant (cancer) if the cells can grow into (invade) surrounding tissues or spread (metastasize) to distant areas of the body. Breast cancer occurs almost entirely in women, but men can get breast cancer, too. Breast cancers can start from different parts of the breast. Most breast cancers begin in the ducts that carry milk to the nipple (ductal cancers). Some start in the glands that make breast milk (lobular cancers). There are also other types of breast cancer that are less common. It’s also important to understand that most breast lumps are not cancer, they are benign. Benign breast tumors are abnormal growths, but they do not spread outside of
the breast and they are not life threatening. But some benign breast lumps can increase a woman’s risk of getting breast cancer. Any breast lump or change needs to be checked by your doctor to determine whether it is benign or cancer and whether it might impact your future cancer risk.
The most common symptom of breast cancer is a new lump or mass. A painless, hard mass that has irregular edges is more likely to be cancer, but breast cancers can be tender, soft, or rounded. They can even be painful.
Other possible symptoms of breast cancer include:
- Swelling of all or part of a breast (even if no distinct lump is felt)
- Skin irritation or dimpling
- Breast or nipple pain
- Nipple retraction (turning inward)
- Redness, scaliness, or thickening of the nipple or breast skin
- Nipple discharge (other than breast milk).