Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women worldwide. Most breast lumps are not cancerous, but it is always best to have them checked by your GP.
Non-cancerous causes of breast lumps include fibroadenomas and cysts. Fibroadenomas are solid growths of tissue and are the most common type of benign breast lump. Cysts are sacs of fluid that build up in breast tissue. You can have one or more cysts and they can vary in size.
Symptoms of breast cancer to be aware of are:
- a new lump or area of thickened tissue in the breasts or armpits
- bloodstained nipple discharge
- dimpling on the skin of your breasts
- a rash on or around the nipple
- a change in the appearance of your nipple, such as nipple inversion.
Male breast cancer is rare but can occur and is associated with age over 60, high oestrogen levels, exposure to radiation and the breast cancer gene.
Breast pain or mastalgia
Is not usually a sign of breast cancer. Breast pain can be linked to hormonal fluctuations during the menstrual cycle and the menopause. Medication such as the oral contraceptive pill, some antidepressants and hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can cause breast pain.
Breast pain can be eased by
- taking simple analgesia such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, or rubbing painkilling gel on the breasts
- wear a properly fitted bra during the day and a soft bra to sleep in
- taking evening primrose oil may help with breast pain.
However, if simple measures do not alleviate the symptoms, medical advice should be sought.
Is a condition where the breast tissue becomes inflamed and painful. There may be a red, swollen, hard area on the breast that is hot and painful to touch. A fever or nipple discharge may develop. It is more common in breast feeding women but can also occur in non-breastfeeding women if the breast becomes infected due to sore or cracked nipples for example. It is important to seek medical attention. If the mastitis is infected it will require treatment with antibiotics and if there is an abscess it is likely to require surgical drainage.
Self-help measures include:
- getting plenty of rest and staying well hydrated
- using over-the-counter painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen to reduce any pain or fever
- if you’re breastfeeding, continuing to feed your baby and making sure they are properly attached to your breast
Seeing your GP
If you have symptoms you are concerned about, your GP will examine you and if required will send you for further tests such as a breast ultrasound or type of breast x-ray (mammogram). A biopsy can be performed if necessary; a small needle is inserted into the breast lump to remove cells for testing. These are sent off for analysis and the results usually take around a week. Treatment of breast lumps depend on the cause, but it is best to seek medical attention if you notice a lump or any other concerning symptoms.
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