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Understanding Breast Health

By September 16, 2019 No Comments

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Understanding Breast Health

As a new mom, Jane takes every possible precaution to care for her health. She follows a sensible diet, takes daily walks and performs breast self-exams every month. Her mother-in-law, Margaret, has a similar mindset. At age 55, she stays active, fit and up-to-date on regular checkups with her doctor.

Both women were concerned when they noticed changes in their breasts. Jane felt a lump under her arm while in the shower, and Margaret noticed an unusual discharge from her right nipple as she was getting ready for bed. Cancer was the first thing that came to mind in each instance. However, Jane and Margaret were both experiencing symptoms of common noncancerous breast conditions.

As women mature, breast tissue changes. Age, hormones, injuries and diseases such as diabetes can affect the breasts, causing benign cysts, lumps and tumors to develop. While some abnormalities may point to breast cancer, most are symptoms of harmless changes in the tissue and ducts in the breast.

If you notice lumps, redness, tenderness or abnormal discharge coming from the breast, schedule a visit to your doctor. He or she will determine the cause of the condition through a physical exam and imaging scans, including mammogram, ultrasound or possibly magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). What your doctor is likely to discover is some type of fibrocystic change, which simply means that scar-like tissue or fluid-filled cysts have formed in the breast. Many of these conditions do not need to be treated unless they are causing pain, in which case, over-the-counter pain relievers or outpatient surgery may offer some relief.

Noncancerous conditions affecting the breast include:

  • Diabetic mastopathy, which causes small, hard lumps to form in the breast. It occurs most commonly in premenopausal women who have Type 1 diabetes.
  • Fibroadenoma, which is characterized by a smooth rubbery or hard lump that moves around in the breast tissue, is most commonly found in teenagers and young women. Unless the lump is painful, it does not need to be removed.
  • Hyperplasia, which occurs when there is an overgrowth of cells in the lobules or ducts of the breast. While it is not a sign of cancer, hyperplasia may signal an increased risk of breast cancer. Your doctor can offer options to lower this risk.
  • Intraductal papillomas, which are small growths that occur in the breast ducts and may cause nipple discharge. They occur most commonly in women ages 30 to 50 and may be removed surgically.