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Breast Lumps And Cancer

Breast Lumps And Cancer

Alternate Names

  • breast masses and cancer
  • Breast Cancer
  • Breast self-exam
  • Breast cancer


A breast lump is a mass within the breast. Fluid-filled masses are known as cysts. Solid masses may be non-cancerous tumors, or they may be breast cancer.

What is the information for this topic?

Non-cancerous breast lumps Most breast masses are not cancer. Many benign, or non-cancerous, breast conditions cause masses or lumps that can be felt. These include the following:
  • breast abscess, a breast infection that often occurs in women who are nursing
  • cysts, or fluid-filled sacs
  • fat necrosis, a condition caused by trauma to the breast that can result in a breast lump
  • fibroadenoma, a common benign breast tumor, or mass, that is usually round, rubbery in texture, and movable
  • fibrocystic changes in the breast, which can cause both breasts to become lumpy and often painful
  • milk duct abnormalities

Breast cancer risksThe risk for any woman to develop breast cancer is significant, about 1 in 9 over a lifetime. Because the female breast is much larger and more developed, women are about 100 times more likely to develop breast cancer than men.

About 5% to 10% of all breast cancers may be related to genes that are passed through families, called BRCA1 and 2. Research has shown that a woman is also at greater risk of developing breast cancer if any of the following conditions apply:
  • She has a personal history of breast cancer in the other breast.
  • She has one or more close blood relatives, such as a mother or sister, who developed breast cancer before menopause.
  • She has a history of certain changes in the breast tissue, including a condition known as atypical hyperplasia.
There is evidence that the following conditions also contribute to a higher risk for breast cancer:
  • beginning menstruation before age 12
  • drinking 2 or more alcoholic beverages a day
  • experiencing menopause after age 55
  • having a first child after age 30, or not having children
  • having denser breasts than usual
  • receiving radiation therapy to the breast before age 30, especially for Hodgkin's lymphoma
  • using diethylstilbestrol, or DES, during pregnancy
  • using estrogen combined with progesterone, such as hormone replacement therapy for menopause
  • using high-dose oral contraceptives for birth control
Other risk factors for developing breast cancer may include the following:
  • being obese
  • eating a diet high in fat
  • drinking 2 to 3 alcoholic beverages a day
  • working the night shift
Women who smoke are more likely than nonsmokers to develop breast cancer that is estrogen-receptor negative. These women do not benefit from anti-hormone therapy. They generally have a poorer outcome from the cancer.
Women who breastfeed their children may lower their risk for breast cancer. However, a woman may have every risk factor and still never develop breast cancer. A woman may have no risk factors and develop breast cancer. At this time it is not possible to predict with absolute accuracy who will and who will not develop breast cancer.
Breast cancer screening Breast cancer is the most common cancer faced by women and the second most common cause of cancer deaths among women. A woman's best defense is early detection of breast cancer by doing the following:
  • clinical breast exam by a healthcare professional
  • mammography
Women should become familiar with how their breasts look and feel. Beginning in the late teens or early 20s, a woman has the option of performing breast self-exams. If a woman does BSE regularly, she may notice early changes in the size, structure, and texture of her breasts.
According to the American Cancer Society, all women over 40 years of age with or without symptoms should have a mammogram once a year. Other organizations have different recommendations. However, all of these organizations agree that every woman aged 50-69 years should have an annual mammogram.
National data demonstrate that these recommendations have resulted in a reduction in deaths from breast cancer.
Diagnosis of breast lumps Once a breast mass is found, it is important to learn if it is benign or cancerous. Healthcare professional generally evaluate lumps or masses as follows:
  • If any suspicious mass or lump is found, a diagnostic mammogram is usually performed.
  • This is sometimes accompanied by a breast ultrasound.
  • If the ultrasound shows the mass is cystic, it is benign. Sometimes it may be drained with a needle.
  • If the ultrasound shows the mass is solid or the mammogram suggests the possibility of cancer, a breast biopsy is done.

During a biopsy, a tissue sample is removed and checked for cancer by a pathologist.

If a biopsy is not done, the woman should have a repeat mammogram one to six months later. A decision will then be made on followup depending upon these results.

These general guidelines for managing breast lumps may not fit every case. Together, a woman and her healthcare professional should discuss options. A woman's emotional and physical health and her past medical history factor into these decisions.


Miaskowski, Christine, Buchesel, Patricia, Oncology Nursing: Assessment and clinical care. Mosby, St Louis 1999 Pg. 412-415

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