Women should definitely see their doctor when they discover a lump instead of ignoring it, hoping that it will go away. Since approximately 90% of all breast lumps are noncancerous, there is not too much of a need to be concerned. But the only way to find out for sure is by seeing a doctor for further testing. Benign growths are noncancerous but some of them may need to be monitored on a regular basis since they come with an increased risk of getting breast cancer in the future.
Unlike benign growths, malignant growths are cancerous. There are different types of malignant breast cancers, mostly classified by which part of the breast they originated. Usually, a biopsy is needed so that cells can be removed from the growth and studied by a pathologist to determine if it is malignant. Treatment plans depend upon the aggressiveness of the cancer. Although nobody wants to hear that their cancer is malignant, there are ways to stop the disease from growing and get rid of the cancer for good.
Symptoms of Benign Growths
There are different types of lumps in your breast which could be benign. Each has particular symptoms associated with them including:
- A round, smooth lump which can move around and change size during a woman’s menstrual cycle could be a cyst, which is a fluid filled duct. There may be pain or tenderness with it.
- A movable, round bump which are hard to the touch could be fibroadenoma, which is a collection of stroma cells. Those are cells that support the other cells in your breast.
- A hard, flat lump which is irregularly shaped may not be cancer; it could be a fat necrosis which is a cluster of dead fat cells.
- Symptoms of swelling, redness, pain, and fever could be a bacteria infection.
- Nipple discharge which is watery or bloody could be from intraductal papilloma which is from very small polyps in the ducts of the breast.
- Thicker nipple discharge accompanied by swelling could be from mammary duct ectasia which occurs when the ducts are clogged with dead cells from their lining.
Symptoms of Malignant Growths
Malignant growths can make themselves known with some of the same symptoms that benign growths have. There may be minor differences, however, which distinguish them from noncancerous, benign growths. For example, malignant lumps tend to be more firm than benign lumps as well as irregularly shaped (not round). Other symptoms include:
- A firm lump in the breast that had not been there previously.
- Uncomfortable swelling of the breast.
- Dimpling or puckering of the breast, like a golf ball or an orange.
- Red or scaly nipples.
- A nipple that turns inward (nipple retraction).
- Discharge (not milk) that leaks on its own.
- A lump that seems to be getting bigger.
It is important for women to know that there is a good chance that their symptoms are not caused by cancer. The only way to find out for sure is by a visit to the doctor who will be able to perform further tests to verify if cancer is present. It is also important to know how to do a self breast exam. Women should do a self breast exam at the same time every month, never right before their menstrual period since temporary lumps are common at this time. Also, the flat part of the fingers should be used instead of the whole hand.
How to Do a Self Breast Exam
There are two ways to effectively perform a self breast exam: laying down or standing up. Symptoms that should be noticeable are:
- Changes in the way the breasts normally feel.
- New lumps.
- Redness, puckering, or dimpling skin of the breast.
- One breast being unusually larger than the other (often times one breast is slightly larger, but if larger than normal, this could be a concern.)
- Nipple discharge.
To perform a self breast exam lying down:
- Lie down on the bed or another flat surface and place a pillow under one shoulder.
- Place the arm of that shoulder behind your head.
- Use the finger pads of the three middle fingers on your opposite hand to feel for lumps in the breast on the side of the body with the raised arm.
- Move your fingers around the breast in the same direction every time. It can be in a circular motion, up and down, or from the outside to the center.
- The entire area of the breast should be covered. This is from the collarbone, to the middle of the armpit, to the middle of the breast bone.
- Switch hands and examine the other breast.
To perform a self breast exam standing up:
- Start a shower. It is easier for the hands to move over the breast when they are soapy.
- While showering, lift your left arm and put your left hand behind your head.
- With your right hand, check your left breast in the same way you would if you were laying down.
- Switch hands. Lift your right arm and put your right hand behind your head. Proceed in the same way with this breast.
- When out of the shower, stand in front of the mirror with your hands by your sides. Look for any visual changes.
- Raise your hands above your head and look for changes again.
It is important for women not only to receive an annual breast exam from their doctor, but to do self breast exams at home. In the end, it is the woman who suffers from a lack of diagnosis, not their doctor. Taking control of their health could mean the difference between cancer that is detected and treated early and cancer that has been detected late, making it more difficult to treat.