News Flash—not every breast lump is a cancer diagnosis! The truth of the matter is that there is a slew of different types of breast lumps, some more unsettling and harrowing than others. Any smart, proactive woman should be aware of the various kinds of lumps that could possibly appear. Furthermore, regular breast self-exams should be carried out monthly at a minimum.
Here, we’ll delve into the numerous types of lumps in breasts that you may encounter and, of course, confront what type of lumps are breast cancer, so you know what to pay attention to, and what is a valid cause for disconcertion. Pictures often assist in determining the kind of lump one can most closely identify with, so we’ve provided some of those too.
Calcification in the tissue of the breast is a fairly common occurrence that is predominantly noncancerous. Larger calcium deposits are called macrocalcifications and smaller deposits, microcalcifications. The former macrocalcification is seen much more frequently, in approximately half the female population over 50 years of age.
The latter, however, need to be closely monitored, as clusters of these tiny white specks can be an indicator of precancerous cells. Should your physician consider your microcalcification discovery ‘suspicious,’ he/she may opt for a biopsy to test the cells for cancer.
Similar to calcium deposits, cysts in the breasts come in dual forms as well—micro (small), and macro (large). Microcysts, though, are usually too little to feel with your hand but can be detected during a mammography scan. Macrocysts can grow as large as two inches around and are oftentimes accompanied by discomfort, soreness, and pain. Both are sacs packed with fluid that offer a squishy consistency, though sometimes they’re firm too. Typically, cysts in the breasts are also benign.
Symptoms of a cyst will possibly include some discharge from the nipples—ranging from clear to yellowish or even darker brown, some pain and sensitivity in the breast, and enlargement and shrinking of breast size prior to and following the period. If the pain is staggering, the cyst can be surgically drained.
While mastitis is not exactly a lump, per se—more like overall inflammation of the whole breast—a small microscopic tumor in the milk canal or duct causes a blockage of otherwise normal secretions, and may result in some areas feeling lumpier than others.
Lipomas are defined as rubbery, moveable, mobile lumps and are often found at the surface of the skin of the breast. They aren’t sensitive or agonizing and they’re completely harmless. These are small, fatty tumors which develop when there’s an accumulation of fat cells in a concentrated area.
Despite the mention of fat, weight loss does not have any effect whatsoever the existence nor abundance of lipomas. The only effective treatment is removal—which is often performed strictly for cosmetic reasons and is entirely unnecessary in terms of lifelong health.
In occasional, sporadic, unusual circumstances, if a lipoma resides in an area that’s exposed to constant friction, say where a bra’s wire sits, or where a backpack hangs, continuous rubbing and chafing can lead to further irritation and development of an abscess. Which nicely leads us into…
A complication often stemming from a mastitis infection, abscesses (unlike cysts) are a pocket full of infectious pus in the breast tissue. Abscesses are often very painful and unpleasant to deal with, and pus leakage is often complemented by a pungent, disgusting odor. These types of lumps in the breast can quickly grow quite sizable.
Antibiotics are the first course of treatment, should they fail, then the abscess needs to be drained by a healthcare professional. Following drainage, the open wound will be tightly packed with gauze to absorb the remaining blood and pus, and the dressing will need to be kept clean and changed regularly. It can take several weeks to heal completely.
By sheer definition, benign tumors are not cancerous. However, they’re not always distinguishable by the average woman. There are a plethora of benign tumors to watch out for. Some include:
- Fibroandenomas—the most common in younger females, which are solid tissue overgrowths
- Sclerosing adenosis—very small but incredibly tender and painful
- Duct ectasia—a blockage in the nipple ducts which may result in an inverted nipple accompanied by a lump underneath
- Fat necrosis—generally forms following an injury (firm scar tissue)
Quite the opposite of benign, malignant tumors are the ones to be careful of. While not a hard rule, these are what type of lumps are breast cancer, and they can start as benign:
- Atypical hyperplasia—considered premalignant, it’s an overproduction of duct cells
- Phyllodes tumor—these usually develop after age 40 and can be malignant or benign, so your doctor will advise removal to reduce your risk of cancer
Other malignant tumors are breast cancer and bear the name—invasive papillary carcinoma, mucinous colloid carcinoma, invasive ductal or lobular carcinoma (IDC, ILC), and tubular carcinoma.
Varying Densities of Tissue
Before concluding, it’s also worth noting that different areas of the breast have distinctive patterns of density, which can feel lumpy. These configurations can transform shape and innervation as hormonal changes take place. Since they’re hormonally induced, menopause, menstruation, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), and puberty alike can offer varying densities at different times of the month. Even normal, healthy breast tissue can feel nodular in certain spots.
Routine breast exams performed at home are vital to learning the density patterns of your own breasts. A region that feels slightly lumpy today might seem totally normal next week.
If you have a lump very close to the chest cavity, your doctors may have difficulty assessing it. As it’s against the pectoral muscle, deep within, it’s more difficult to attain a clear image of the complaint in a standard mammogram. In these cases, along with many other prognoses, an ultrasound or MRI will be ordered for clearer images and further investigation.
The many different types of breast lumps that could take shape is downright scary. If you’re ever unsure about any strange growths on or inside your breasts, visit your doctor to hopefully rule out any chances of a life-threatening condition.
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