All female breasts feel somewhat lumpy. Most of the time, the lumpiness is due to normal breast structures, such as milk glands and fibrous tissue. The hormonal changes of each menstrual cycle also contribute to breast lumpiness. Still, a breast lump serves as an important warning sign of breast cancer; thus, any new or different breast lump should be checked promptly by a doctor.
Causes of breast lumps
Abnormal milk production
Any production of breast milk that is not related to pregnancy or nursing is referred to as galactorrhea. Abnormal milk production is caused by overproduction of prolactin, one of the pituitary hormones. In unusual instances, overstimulation of the breasts, such as might occur during sexual activity, will signal the pituitary to secrete prolactin, resulting in milk production. The amount of milk produced is usually small, and ceases when the breast stimulation stops. A breast lump pressing against a milk gland can also stimulate prolactin production and milk secretion. Sometimes, abnormal milk production is accompanied by an absence of menstrual periods, which may indicate a tumor (usually a benign adenoma) of the pituitary gland.
Benign breast tumors
The most common type of injury to the breasts is simple bruising, which may be followed by a condition called fat necrosis. The breasts are made up mostly of fatty tissue. After an injury, a small amount of this fatty tissue may die and then form a lump that feels firm and irregular. A less common condition is called benign intraductal papilloma, in which tiny lumps form in the nipple ducts. There may be a bloody discharge from the nipples.
Breast cancer is one of the most common female
malignancies, and is second only to lung cancer as a cause of cancer death among women. Most forms of breast cancer are highly curable if the disease is diagnosed and treated early, before it has spread to other parts of the body Learning proper breast self-examination and practicing it monthly are essential steps in the early detection of breast cancer. In addition, all women should have their breasts examined by a doctor yearly, and have a mammogram, a special x-ray of the breasts, at regular intervals starting at age 35 or 40.
The lumps vary in size from barely detectable to the size of a golf ball. If they are near the surface, they can usually be moved around freely, rather than being fixed to underlying tissue as in many breast cancers. Fibrocystic breasts are not dangerous, but a
About 20 percent of women develop fibrocystic breasts, a benign condition that occurs during the years between puberty and menopause. In this condition, one or more cysts form in the breasts, and during the premenstrual phase of the woman's monthly cycle, these cysts swell. The swelling often causes breast pain, and when examined at this time, the breasts feel more lumpy than usual. Typically, the cysts shrink after the menstrual period, but sometimes one or more remain swollen and filled with fluid or become fibrous.
biopsy still may be necessary to distinguish cancer from solid cysts.
Mastitis is an inflammation of the breast, which most commonly occurs in new mothers. Women who breast feed are particularly susceptible, since infection can be caused from bacteria that enter the breast from the nursing baby's nose or mouth. The breasts feel hot, tender, hard, and swollen, and there is usually also a fever. Mastitis is easily treatable, but if it is neglected, it may become chronic. Breast abscesses may also develop.
Premenstrual syndrome, or PMS, is a constellation of symptoms that typically begins several days before the start of each menstrual period and stops when menstruation begins. Tender, swollen breasts that may become lumpy are a common sign of PMS. Other symptoms, ranging from mild to severe, include nervousness and irritability, emotional instability, dizziness, headaches, bloating, intestinal upsets, and fluid retention.
Advice about breast lumps
- Be particularly alert for possible signs of breast cancer. These include a swelling or lump in the breast, discomfort without pain in the breast, retraction of the nipple, distortion of the contour of the breast, dimpling or pitting of the skin, or bloody discharge from the nipple.
- Breast tenderness due to PMS can often be reduced by decreasing salt intake before the onset of menstrual periods. Some doctors also advise eliminating caffeine during the premenstrual phase.
- A woman who is breastfeeding her baby should be sure to wash her hands and nipples before nursing. She should also wear a bra that is not too tight.