Not all breast lumps are cancers. Infact most palpable breast lumps in women <40 years of age are benign. Non-cancerous breast conditions are very common and not life threatening. Surgery for these patients if required can usually be performed in day-surgery units with either general or local anaesthesia and sedation.
Benign breast tumors (e.g. fibro-adenomas) are non-cancerous growths where breast cells have grown abnormally and rapidly, forming a lump. These tumours feel solid and can be mistaken by patients for breast cancer. They particularly occur in women aged 25-35 years, when hormones are most active on the breast tissue.
Benign breast tumors may be uncomfortable and some are even quite painful, however they are not dangerous and do not spread from the breast to other organs. Still it is important to be aware of some benign breast conditions, such as ductal papilloma and atypical hyperplasia, because often women with these tumours may have a slightly higher risk of developing breast cancer. There are rare types of benign tumours (e.g. Phyllodes Tumours or cystosarcomas) which behave like cancers and can be rapidly growing, invading the breast tissue without spreading outside of the breast to other parts of the body. These can be sometimes difficult to treat and often recurr locally. o as
A biopsy (excision or needle) is often the only way to determine if a lump is benign or cancerous. Commonly during a biopsy procedure, a small fragment of the tumour is removed and sent to be studied under a microscope by an expertly qualified pathologist. Sometimes even a benign tumour may become quite large, changing the breast size or shape. If the tumour is growing into the tissue of the milk ducts, it may cause an abnormal nipple discharge. Depending on the type, size, and number of benign tumors, surgery may be recommended to remove them particularly if a patient remains anxious by the presence of a lump in the breast or the appearance of the breast because of the lump. These are alll well recognised reasons for excision of benign breast lumps.
Many women get fibrosis or cysts at some time in their lives. These changes are usually affected by hormones and get worse during menstrual periods.
Fibrosis is the result of scarring in the connective tissues and cysts are fluid-filled spaces or sacs within the breast tissue. These changes can cause areas of lumpiness, thickening, tenderness, nipple discharge or pain in the breast. If they are painful, cysts can be treated by taking out the fluid with a needle and syringe, but they often refill with fluid again.
Very rarely benign tumours and cysts may contain cancer within them so it is important for women with breast lumps and cysts to have radiological tests and be assessed indiviually by Dr Girardi a specialist breast surgeon, who may be able to provide expert advice on how to manage these problems.