Breast Lumps

What is a breast lump?

A breast lump is a mass or growth of tissue that develops within the breast. It could occur as a bulge, protuberance, bump, or a localized swelling in the breast that feels and looks different from the surrounding breast tissue. Most often breast lumps are benign (noncancerous); however, it is important to see your doctor for a medical evaluation as they can also be a sign of cancer.

What causes breast lumps?

Breasts are made up of tissues of varying consistency, including glandular tissue (milk-producing cells), fatty tissue, fibrous connective tissue, blood vessels, nerves, and lymph nodes. Each section of the breast can react in a distinct way in response to changes in the body chemistry, impacting the texture and sensations of the breast that can cause breast lumps to occur.

Some of the potential causes of breast lumps include:

  • Trauma or injury
  • Mastitis or breast infection
  • Breast cysts – soft, fluid-filled sacs
  • Milk cysts – sacs filled with milks
  • Lipoma – noncancerous, fatty lump
  • Hamartoma – benign, tumour-like growth
  • Intraduct papilloma – non-cancerous tumour in milk duct
  • Fibrocystic breasts - a condition that gives breast a lumpy or rope-like texture and is sometimes accompanied by pain
  • Fibroadenoma – noncancerous, rubbery lump that rarely become cancerous and easily moves within the breast
  • Breast cancer

What are the signs that necessitates you to see a doctor?

Some of the signs that requires immediate medical attention by your doctor include:

  • When you notice a new mass or lump.
  • A change in the breast shape, contour, and size.
  • An area of your breast is clearly different from the surrounding tissue.
  • When you notice a newly inverted nipple.
  • Dimpling, scaling, puckering, or redness on your breast or nipple.
  • Spontaneous nipple discharge.
  • A thickened area or lump near or in the breast or underarm that lasts through your menstruation.
  • Pain in the breasts that persists even after your period.

How is breast lump diagnosed?

Some of the tests and procedures involved with the diagnosis of a breast lump include:

  • A review of your medical history to check for any previous history of breast conditions.
  • A clinical breast examination to check for any lumps, nipple discharge, or changes in the appearance of the breasts.
  • Examination of the lymph nodes in the armpit or lower neck to check for any swelling or tenderness to touch.
  • Mammogram – an X-ray examination of the breast to check for subtle changes not detected during physical exam.
  • Ultrasound scan – use of high-frequency sound waves to create pictures of breast tissue to differentiate between a fluid-filled cyst and a solid mass.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – use of radio wave and strong magnetic field to produce detailed images of breast tissue to detect cancerous lesions.
  • Breast biopsy – surgical removal of a sample of breast tissue or cells and fluid from a suspicious area for microscopic analysis.

How is breast lump treated?

To formulate a treatment plan, your doctor has to ascertain the cause of your breast lump.

If the cause of the breast lump is related to an infection, your doctor will most likely prescribe antibiotics as a treatment measure. If a fluid-filled cyst is noted to be the cause of the lump, then the cyst is drained of fluid.

If the breast lump is deemed to be cancerous, treatment may involve:

  • Surgery – surgical removal of the lump or abnormal tissue from a breast
  • Chemotherapy – use of drugs to target and destroy breast cancer cells
  • Radiation – use of high-energy radioactive rays to destroy cancer cells

The nature of treatment for the breast cancer will depend upon the type of breast cancer, the location and size of the lump or tumour, and whether the cancer has metastasised past your breast.