What To Do If You Find Lump in Your Breast

What Every Woman Should Know About Breast Exams

Woman examining breast, mid-section, close-up
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Seven words you never thought you'd hear yourself say: I found a lump in my breast. Don't panic. Breast tissue naturally has a bumpy texture and for some women, this lumpiness is more pronounced than it is for others. In most cases, the lumpiness is nothing to worry about. In fact, four out of five breast lumps are not cancerous.

To make sure, check your other breast. If both breasts feel the same, the lumpiness is probably normal.

If the lump is only in one breast, or if it's new or unusual and doesn't go away after your next menstrual period, then you should see your doctor. The same is true if you notice changes in the nipple; there's discharge, for instance, or there are changes in the skin like dimpling or puckering.

What to Expect During a Breast Exam

Your doctor will want to know:

  • How long you've had your symptoms
  • The first day of your last period
  • The state of your general health
  • What medications you currently take, including supplements and over-the-counter medications
  • How many children you've had and if you're currently pregnant
  • Whether you have any relatives with benign breast changes or breast cancer
  • Whether you've previously been diagnosed with benign breast changes.

After discussing your symptoms and health history, your doctor will do a breast exam and may order a diagnostic mammogram, an X-ray image of your breasts to determine what type of changes have occurred.

Diagnostic mammography may include additional views or use special techniques to magnify a suspicious area or to eliminate shadows produced by overlapping layers of normal breast tissue. The doctor will want to compare the results with any previous mammograms. If the lump appears to be a cyst, your doctor may ask you to have an ultrasound.

Aspirating a Cyst

If a cyst is suspected, your doctor may proceed directly with aspiration. This procedure, which uses a very thin needle and a syringe, takes only a few minutes and can be done in the doctor's office.

Holding the lump steady, the doctor inserts the needle and attempts to draw out any fluid. If the lump is indeed a cyst, removing the fluid will cause the cyst to collapse and the lump to disappear. Unless the cyst reappears in the next week or two, no other treatment is needed. If the cyst reappears at a later date, it can simply be drained again.

If the lump turns out to be solid, it may be possible to use the needle to withdraw a clump of cells, which can then be sent to a lab for further testing. Cysts are so rarely associated with cancer that the fluid removed from a cyst is not usually tested unless it's bloody or you're over the age of 55.

Source: The National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health

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