A woman's breasts may change over time due to different levels of hormones in the body caused by menstruation, pregnancy, breast feeding and menopause. There are a number of benign, or non-cancerous, conditions that may develop within the breasts. Because there are many conditions, benign and malignant, that may be associated with the breast, patients are advised to perform breast self-exams in addition to scheduling routine exams with a physician.
Benign Breast Conditions
Not all abnormalities that develop within the breast are cancerous. Some common benign breast conditions faced by women include:
These fluid-filled spaces in the breast that may occur alone or in clusters in one or both breasts. Benign breast cysts occur in about half of all women and may shrink or stop growing on their own. Cysts that continue to grow may need to be drained with a fine needle aspiration, or removed completely if they grow back.
A fibroadenoma is a lump in the breast composed of glandular and connective tissue. They may occur at any age, but are most common in women between the ages of 20 and 40. A fibroadenoma may need to be removed if it does not shrink on its own, through a surgical procedure known as a lumpectomy.
Intraductal papilloma. This benign tumor can develop in the duct of the breast. Finger-like protrusions grow from the tissue either alone or in a group and, if there is more than one, may pose an elevated risk of breast cancer. A papilloma often requires removal, along with a portion of the duct in which it was found.
Breast exams are physical and visual inspections of the breasts that can help identify unusual lumps or suspicious growths around the breasts. Breast exams are useful for the early diagnosis of breast cancer.
During a breast exam, a doctor may ask the patient to place her arm in several positions to view and examine the breast from various angles. For the physical portion of the exam, the doctor will rotate his or her fingers around the entire breast, applying changing levels of pressure to feel areas near the surface as well as deeper within the breast.
In addition, a doctor can teach a patient how to perform these exams at home every month in order to recognize any changes in her own breasts. By becoming familiar with the feel of her breasts, a woman will be better able to identify a change that may indicate an abnormality.
A mammogram is an X-ray examination of the breast. It is performed to detect breast cancer in its earliest stages, often before any signs or symptoms of the disease are present. Mammograms are an effective way to detect cancer early and can aid in the goal of successfully treating and beating the disease.
It is recommended that women over the age of 40 have mammograms annually, especially if they have a family history of breast cancer or abnormal changes have been found in their breasts.
Mammograms are performed for either screening or diagnostic purposes. Screening mammograms produce images of both breasts in order to detect any tumors that cannot yet be felt under the skin as well as calcium deposits that may indicate breast cancer. Diagnostic mammograms are performed after a lump or other sign of breast cancer has been detected during a screening mammogram. This procedure targets a specific area of the breast and takes more detailed images from many different angles.
A breast sonogram is a diagnostic imaging test used to examine the tissues inside the breast by exposing them to high-frequency sound waves that create images of the breast tissue. These images are captured in real time and can show the movement of the inner organs, along with blood flowing through blood vessels in the area.
Breast sonograms are usually performed after breast abnormalities are found during a physical examination or mammogram. This procedure can help determine the cause of breast symptoms, diagnose a cyst or a lump in the breast and monitor the size of a cyst.