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Your guide to understanding benign breast conditions

Human beings have a natural tendency to be health anxious, especially with regards to some areas of our body, for instance, breasts. If you were to wake up with an abnormality in your breast size, shape, touch or appearance, you would most likely assume it to be cancer. And rightly so, considering the high prevalence of breast cancer with nearly 2 million people affected. However, irrespective of the rising incidence, not all breast abnormalities are cancer. Benign breast conditions or noncancerous breast conditions are also commonplace. 

In this article, Dr Rohan Khandelwal, a leading breast specialist in Gurgaon at the CK Birla Hospital, explains everything there is to know about benign breast conditions

What are benign breast conditions?

Benign, by definition, means non-malignant aka non-cancerous. Benign breast conditions (also referred to as benign breast disease) are non-cancerous tumours or diseases that affect the breast area. 

Noncancerous breast conditions indicate the presence of unusual growths that are not related to cancer cells. These growths appear in the form of breast lumps and are often misunderstood for cancer tumours. However, a majority of breast lumps are found to be benign upon diagnosis. 

While a benign breast lump may not be presently associated with cancer, it may raise your chances of developing breast cancer in the distant future. Medical experts provide a classification of breast diseases based on the risk they pose for breast cancer. 

Therefore, benign breast lumps classification includes three categories:

No increase in 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

A slight increase in 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 tumour
  • 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 behaviours.

A moderate increase in 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.

What are benign breast disease symptoms?

The symptoms of a benign breast lump and breast cancer often overlap. You may feel overwhelmed and scared after discovering the initial symptoms. However, mostly, these atypical growths are diagnosed as benign. Benign breast conditions are so common that up to 50% of all women experience one such disease once during their lifetime. 

There are several different types of benign breast diseases that affect every person uniquely. Only a qualified medical professional can diagnose these diseases correctly. Some common signs and symptoms of benign breast disease include:

  • Breast Pain (mastalgia) and swelling in the breast swelling
  • Breast tenderness
  • A lump that can be felt through the skin or nipple
  • Change in breast size, shape or appearance 
  • Skin irritation
  • Redness on the nipple and skin of the breast
  • Pain in the nipple 
  • Retraction of the nipple (part of the nipple looks like it is pulling inward)
  • Abnormal discharge from the breast (that is not milk)
  • Dimpled, puckered or scaly breasts

You must consult a breast specialist even when a single symptom is seen. All of the above signs and symptoms require further testing and investigation. 

What are the different types of benign breast conditions?

Benign breast conditions can affect a person in the form of various conditions. Some common diseases include:

  • Breast cysts: Your breasts are made up of three types of tissues – glandular, fibrous and fatty tissues. When fluid gets accumulated inside the glands in your breasts due to hormonal fluctuation, it leads to the formation of breasts cysts. Breast cysts are benign breast tumor types that develop in the form of small fluid-filled sacs. They are often painless and do not require immediate clinical intervention. 
  • Fibroadenomas: Fibroadenomas are among the most common types of breast lumps. They most often affect women between the age group of 15-35 years. These lumps vary in size and may shrink on their own, over time. 
  • Fibrocystic breast disease: Fibrocystic breast disease happens when fluid-filled oval sacs develop along with fibrosis in the breasts. Fibrosis is the thickening of breast tissue. The lumps formed as a result of fibrocystic breast disease often feel lumpy, dense and tender. 
  • Hyperplasia: Hyperplasia is a medical condition that leads to the formation of non-cancerous breast lumps due to an increase in the number of cells lining the ducts or lobules in the breast. Atypical hyperplasia can increase breast cancer risk by 4 to 5 times. 
  • Intraductal papilloma: Intraductal papilloma are breast lumps that grow inside the mammary duct of the breast. Papillomas are benign breast lumps after 50 that may also affect women over the age of 30 years. 

Other types of benign breast diseases include mammary duct ectasia, traumatic fat necrosis, mastitis, granular cell tumours and more. 

Benign Breast tumor disease

What causes benign breast diseases?

Since there is a wide range of benign breast diseases, there are multiple reasons why they occur. Some common reasons for the development of non cancerous breast conditions are:

  • Changes in breast tissue that occur with age
  • Infection that affects the breasts
  • Scar tissue formed from a breast injury
  • Hormone fluctuations, especially during menstruation, pregnancy or menopause.
  • Side-effects of certain medication use, such as hormonal contraceptives (birth control pills) and hormone replacement therapy
  • Increased intake of caffeinated beverages

Anyone can be affected by non cancerous breast conditions. However, some people are at a greater risk than others. You are more likely to have a benign breast disease, if:

  • You have a higher hormonal imbalance
  • You are using hormone replacement therapy 
  • You have a family history of breast diseases or breast cancer 

How are benign breast diseases diagnosed?

It is common to mistake a benign breast lump for breast cancer. It is important that you seek urgent clinical help upon discovering any of the above-mentioned symptoms. The diagnosis of a benign breast disease starts similar to the diagnosis of breast cancer. 

Your healthcare provider will order a variety of tests to eliminate the possibility of cancer and identify the type of benign disease. Some common tests include:

  • Physical breasts exam:  A physical exam is a preliminary investigation in which your healthcare provider manually examines your breast for any abnormal changes or lumps. During this consultation, your doctor would also discuss your personal medical history, family history of the disease and severity of symptoms. 
  • Imaging tests: The first line of diagnosis includes imaging and screening tests. Your doctor may order tests such as Ultrasound scans, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and more to visibly screen for lumps. 
  • Laboratory analysis: You will be asked to submit a sample of your nipple discharge. The contents of this discharge are sent for laboratory analysis. A lab technician examines the discharge under a microscope for the presence of cells. 
  • Breast biopsy: A biopsy means the removal of breast tissue for analysis. There are different types of breast biopsy such as fine-needle aspiration biopsy. Your doctor may indicate a biopsy to examine the breast tissues for abnormalities. 

Other diagnostic tests may also be ordered if your doctor suspects the need for them or a suspicious lump in breast ultrasound appears.  

What is benign breast disease treatment?

Your treatment plan for a benign breast disease depends upon its type and severity of symptoms. Most of the benign breast diseases do not require any treatment and do not cause any painful symptoms. These conditions tend to subside on their own. 

If you are wondering about breast lump when to worry, you may consult your healthcare provider upon experiencing extreme pain or discomfort. Your doctor may offer relevant treatment, accordingly. 

How to cure breast lump naturally?

As mentioned above, most breast lumps shrink on their own without causing any pain or discomfort. However, you can speed up the treatment of breast lumps naturally. 

Here listed are some home remedies that can help to cure breast lumps. 

  • Apply heat compression or ice pack to relieve pain 
  • Restrict caffeine intake 
  • Eat high fibre food
  • Exercise moderately 
  • Wear sports bra or comfortable innerwear

Please note, you should consult with your healthcare provider before applying any of these measures. 

Can a benign breast tumor become malignant?

Benign breast tumor, by description, are non-cancerous. A majority of benign breast diseases do not turn malignant, that is, cancerous. However, some of them may increase your risk of developing cancer cells. 

How to dissolve cysts in breast?

Simple and fibrosis cysts can be treated if they are causing pain or discomfort. The fluid in these cysts can be drained by inserting a thin and hollow needle in the cyst. 

The concluding note 

Benign breast conditions are highly common in women across all ages. However, these diseases are not a cause for concern. 

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.

For more information on what is benign breast disease, book an appointment with Dr Rohan Khandelwal, the best breast cancer specialist in Gurgaon at the CK Birla Hospital.

Also, watch Dr Rohan Khandelwal, Breast cancer specialist at the CK Birla Hospital sheds some more light on this condition:

 

FAQs

Ques: Do benign breast tumours need to be removed?

Ans: If your doctor suspects an abnormality in benign breast tumour along with severe symptoms and pain, they may suggest to surgically remove it. 

Ques: Can a benign breast lump turn into cancer?

Ans: No, most benign breast lumps do not turn into cancer. 

Ques: What happens if you have a benign breast lump?

Ans: Benign breast lumps are non-malignant and do not usually require clinical intervention. 

Ques: What does a benign breast lump feel like?

Ans: Benign breast lumps are soft and usually have smooth edges. These lumps can be moved slightly when pushed. 

Ques: Is it necessary to remove benign breast lumps?

Ans: Most often, a benign lump does not need treatment. Surgery may be done if you experience pain, discomfort or other symptoms. 

Ques: Are benign breast conditions & cancer common in men?

Ans: Men are at a much lower risk of breast cancer or breast conditions than their female counterparts, although they can develop similar breast conditions, too.

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.
 
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