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Benign Breast conditions: what you should be aware of

Breasts are target organs for hormone action and tend to undergo changes throughout the reproductive life cycle of women. The cascade of hormonal changes that occur during the different phases of a woman’s life is sometimes accompanied by sporadic or unusual changes in the breast.

These changes include fibroadenomas, lumps, cysts, or discharge from the nipples, typically referred to as benign breast conditions or benign breast disease.

Benign breast conditions are non-cancerous and surprisingly common. Stony Brook Cancer Center reports that almost 80% of breast lumps that are biopsied are benign or non-malignant.

These breast conditions are not, however, a female-specific health concern alone. Men, although at a much lower risk than their female counterparts, can develop similar breast conditions, too.

In this article, we help you discover the symptoms of non-cancerous breast conditions and learn about the best possible options for treatment.

What Is Benign Breast disease?

Benign Breast Disease refers to non-malignant lesions or lumps on the breasts due to hormonal imbalance.

These breast irregularities can manifest in the form of lumps, cysts or changes in the nipple or skin of the breasts.

Non-cancerous breast lumps may be painful and could be a potential reason to worry about cancer. However, these breast conditions are generally not life-threatening and usually go away on their own.

Contributing factors for benign breast lumps are commonly associated with

  • Breast infection
  • Fat necrosis or damaged tissue
  • Certain medications like antidepressants
  • Birth control pills and infertility treatments
  • Fatty acid imbalance
  • Fibrocystic breast disease or lumpy breasts

Benign Breast tumor disease

Benign Breast conditions and cancer risk

The discovery of benign breast tumors can be worrying for many women. The symptoms of cancer and benign breast disease are often indistinguishable.

So naturally, women assume that the lumps in their breasts are malignant. The high mortality rate of cancer provokes further fear – in 2018, breast cancer accounted for 15% of cancer-related deaths in women.

The important thing to note is that cancer does not cause the majority of benign breast conditions. However, studies indicate that certain types of breast lumps tend to be an indication for developing breast cancer in the future.

Women are, therefore, encouraged to investigate any breast complaints to facilitate the early detection of breast cancer-related symptoms.

Signs and symptoms of Benign Breast disease:

Symptoms and signs of benign breast tumor or disease may include:

  • Swelling, pain or tenderness in the breast
  • Redness, scaling or itching around the nipple or skin of the breast
  • Breast lumps or bulging (benign or non-cancerous breast lumps also tend to be painful)
  • Inverted nipples
  • Pain in the nipple
  • Yellow or greenish discharge from one or both nipples (If nipple discharge is tea-colored, clear, spontaneous or blood-stained, it is usually a symptom of a more serious underlying condition)

Many symptoms of benign breast disease mimic those of breast cancer and cannot be easily distinguished as benign or malignant.

To rule out all suspicions of complications such as cancer, consult a healthcare practitioner for an accurate diagnosis.

Diagnosis of Benign Breast conditions:

If you experience symptoms such as lesions, lumps or lipomas in the breast, it is best to seek immediate medical care. The procedures and tests used for the diagnosis of benign breast disorders are often similar to those used to diagnose breast cancer.

Depending on your symptoms, you can expect some of the following diagnostic procedures:

  • Breast examination
  • Breast imaging tests such as ultrasound, mammogram or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Nipple discharge analysis which involves examining a sample under the microscope for traces of blood or other abnormal cells
  • Biopsy tests such as fine-needle aspiration, core biopsy, ultrasound-guided core biopsy, and open excisional biopsy

In fine-needle aspiration or FNA, a very fine needle is inserted into the area of abnormal tissue or lesion to draw out fluid.

Core biopsy, on the other hand, is similar to FNA but uses a larger needle. An open excisional biopsy involves the surgical removal of the entire abnormal mass.

Types of Benign Breast conditions:

Benign breast diseases can be categorized based on their possible risk of developing into breast cancer.

The four categories for general diagnostic evaluation are:

1. No Breast Cancer risk

Also called non-proliferative breast lumps or lesions, they are typically associated with no risk of developing into breast cancer later.

Common examples of such conditions include:

  • Cysts
  • Fibroadenoma
  • Fibrocystic breast changes
  • Calcifications

2. Slight Breast Cancer risk

The risk of cancer with such conditions is generally very minor. Sometimes, they warrant a close watch by doctors to ensure that the cells do not continue to divide.

The conditions in this category are:

  • Adenosis or enlargement of lobules (milk-producing glands)
  • Fibromatosis
  • Benign phyllodes tumor
  • Radial scars
  • Flat epithelial Atypia

Other breast conditions include Juvenile Papillomatosis, Peripheral Intraductal Papillomas, and Usual Ductal or Lobular Hyperplasia.

In all of these conditions, there is an overgrowth of breast cells. But these cells are otherwise normal. Doctors may advise adopting healthy lifestyle behaviors.

3. Moderate Breast Cancer risk

Also called ‘Atypical hyperplasia’, this is a condition wherein unusual-looking cells divide excessively.

Although not an apparent symptom, it does moderately increase a person’s risk of developing breast cancer in the long term.

The treatment may include removal of cells around that area as well as paying closer attention to breast health.

4. Pregnancy, inflammation, infections, and more

These benign breast conditions are generally associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. These include:

  • Mastitis
  • Mammary Duct Ectasia
  • Eczema of the nipple
  • Cellulitis or skin-associated infection
  • Fat necrosis and oil cysts

Doctors may consider breast cancer as a possibility, and if symptoms persist, appropriate diagnostic tests may be performed.

Follow-up care for Benign Breast disease:

If you detect any symptoms that may signal a problem, seek immediate health care. Frequent breast exams and timely treatment will help doctors address complications in time and suggest corrective measures.

To keep track of lumps or other breast changes, do not hesitate to contact our doctors at the CK Birla Hospital.

Dr. Rohan Khandelwal
Author: Dr. Rohan Khandelwal
Dr. Rohan Khandelwal is a renowned surgeon who has completed his fellowship in breast oncology and advanced breast surgery from esteemed institutes like The Aiello Breast Center, University of Maryland. He has garnered over 17 years of clinical experience from some of the most reputed healthcare facilities across the country. He specializes in benign and cancerous breast disorders in both genders. He is also the editor in chief for the New Indian Journal of Surgery and Journal of Young Medical Researcher.