It is a frequent experience for women to find a lump in their breast and it is often alarming. In the majority of cases, particularly in premenopausal women, this turns out to be a completely harmless lump. Nonetheless, it is a disturbing experience. In this section, I aim to explain the possible causes of breast lumps, and the procedure that is sometimes necessary to make a diagnosis.
Some women have naturally lumpy breasts. Often this is more pronounced before their menstrual period. Sometimes, women who have not previously noticed their breasts to be lumpy develop lumpiness as they approach the menopause. Nine out of ten breast lumps turn out not to be cancerous; examples of non-cancerous lumps include
- an area of prominent glandular tissue
- benign cysts
Breast lumps are often identified by women incidentally, for example during a shower. Ideally, women should examine themselves regularly by self examination. That way, they become accustomed to what their breasts feel like, and notice if there is a difference. If you discover a lump in one breast, check the other breast(html link to How to examine your breasts) If both breasts feel the same, the lumpiness is probably normal. You should, however, mention it to your doctor at your next visit.
But if the lump is something new or unusual and does not go away after your next menstrual period, it is time to call your doctor. The same is true if you discover a discharge from the nipple or skin changes such as dimpling or puckering.
Sometimes patients say “Why should I examine my breasts? I have never felt a breast cancer and don’t know what it would feel like, so what’s the point?” Nonetheless, if you do examine your breasts regularly you know what they feel like and if there is a persistent difference you will be able to act on it. To do this you need to know how to examine your breasts. Please look at the page on this site “How to examine your breasts”.