Even those who aren't yet getting regular mammograms are encouraged to complete regular self breast exams monthly, and girls learn from an early age to know their breasts and to recognize changes.
Since breast cancer is the most well-known reason for breast changes, many women worry as a matter of course when they discover a lump or knot.
While it is important to schedule an appointment with your OB/GYN as soon as you recognize changes in your breast tissue, you don't have to spend the time between your discovery and your appointment in a panic. There are a number of non-cancerous conditions that can cause your breasts to change, as well.
Sometimes also called fibrocystic disease or disorder, fibrocystic breast changes are often widespread throughout the breasts and variable in nature. Usually these changes can be connected to the menstrual cycle as well as certain dietary choices.
Rather than appearing as a solitary lump, fibrocystic disease or disorder causes the entire breast tissue to change, so women with this condition may feel lumpiness throughout the breasts. The breasts themselves may become swollen and tender, and often this occurs at certain points in the menstrual cycle.
Much more scientific research needs to be done on the cause of fibrocystic breasts, but anecdotally, many women with this condition find that dietary changes can help alleviate the symptoms. Caffeine is the most frequently blamed culprit for fibrocystic breast changes, meaning many women experience relief after cutting down on their caffeine intake.
While it's true that a solitary lump in the breast may be a sign of breast cancer, these lumps can also be benign and caused by more mundane issues.
A simple cyst, for example, can occur anywhere in the body, including the breast tissue. These lumps are filled with fluid. They may become larger or more tender during menstruation. Medically speaking, a simple cyst in the breast is not a cause for concern, as these benign formations do not develop into cancer. Benign simple cysts in the breast are usually diagnosed through ultrasound, possibly followed by a needle biopsy to confirm that the cyst is filled with fluid and has no solid tissue.
All fluid-filled breast lumps are benign, but some fibrous lumps may also be harmless. Fibroadenomas fit this description, and frequently occur due to an overabundance of milk-producing glands. This type of benign lump is usually painless, and can be either stationary or mobile.
Because they are fibrous in nature, fibroadenomas typically require a biopsy for diagnosis. Once they are confirmed to be benign, however, most usually require no further treatment.
An intraductal papilloma is another type of benign, fibrous growth that occurs in the breasts, usually near the nipple. These growths occur in the milk ducts, and may be accompanied by nipple discharge that is clear or sometimes bloody.
Since, like fibroadenomas, intraductal papillomas are benign, your doctor will likely recommend no further treatment once cancer has been ruled out. If the papillomas are painful or too bothersome, though, they can be surgically removed.
The fact that there are multiple benign breast changes does not negate the need to call your OB/GYN as soon as you notice a lump or other transformation in your breast tissue. Breast cancer remains a serious and potentially fatal diagnosis, and delaying treatment could adversely affect your prognosis.
If you've discovered changes in your breast tissue, or if you need a primer on how to perform a proper self breast exam, contact the experienced staff at Gainesville's All About Women.