Breast Problems That Aren’t Breast Cancer

Breast cancer awareness is important, but so is breast health awareness. Your breast health is personal and unique to you. It’s your duty to be proactive and make sure you’re aware of changes in your body.

REMEMBER: The most important message for anyone is to not ignore breast lumps, breast pain, or any breast changes. If you notice changes or feel anything new (firmness or lump) in your breasts, see your doctor. If you know what the breast problem is, you can either get it treated or have peace of mind.

What are Benign Breast Problems?

Benign breast problems are problems in the breast that are not cancer. Benign breast problems can go away on their own or are easily treated. The most common benign breast problems are cysts, benign masses, and infections. You can get benign breast problems at any time, regardless if you’ve had breast cancer or not. Staying proactive with screening protocols—breast self-exams, clinical exams, and mammograms—is important for your overall breast health. Many benign breast problems are related to hormones and found in premenopausal women. If you’re in menopause and notice breast problems or changes, it’s especially important to consult your doctor to rule out potential breast cancer. Benign breast problems typically present as either pain or a lump. Breast cancer – it’s not common, but possible, which is why being proactive with your health and knowing your body is key.

Types of Benign Breast Problems:

1.Breast pain: Breast pain is any discomfort, tenderness, or pain in the breast or underarm region, and it may occur for a number of reasons.

  • Causes: Generally, breast pain is not a sign of breast cancer. Breast pain almost always goes away. It can be tied to activity, menstruation, pregnancy, menopause, or certain medications. Also, some women have lumpy breast tissue called fibrocystic breasts, which may be more painful during certain times of the month.
  • Diagnosis & treatment: Your doctor may perform an ultrasound and/or mammogram for breast pain to be sure it’s not breast cancer. Breast cancer doesn’t typically present as pain until more advanced. If your cancer is more advanced and causing pain, it could be that the tumor is pushing on organ structures or hitting nerves. That’s more consistent with locally advanced breast cancer. (Locally advanced breast cancer includes breast pain as a symptom, but has other distinct symptoms as well, such as a large mass and abnormal axillary lymph nodes) Your doctor may recommend temporary solutions for breast pain like Vitamin E, evening primrose oil, wearing a supportive bra, or taking a pain reliever.


2. Breast Cyst: A breast cyst is a fluid-filled sac that develops in the breast tissue. You can think of a cyst like a water balloon. Any woman, at any age, can have cysts. There are a few different types of common breast cysts.

    • A single fluid-filled sac is called a simple cyst.
    • A bunch of cysts next to each other are called complicated cysts. Sometimes complicated cysts can be described like a bunch of grapes.
    • A cyst that has a very small mass inside is called a complex cyst. These are less common. If you have a complex cyst, a biopsy may be recommended.
  • Causes: Breast cysts are typically related to hormones. You most often see breast cysts in women of reproductive years and premenopausal. They can fluctuate with your menstrual cycle, too. Not everybody has breast cysts, but many women get them. Because they are related to hormones, you can’t prevent breast cysts from happening. Most people’s breast cyst issues will go away in menopause because that’s when hormone levels decrease.
  • Symptoms: A breast cyst can feel like a lump. A breast cyst may be painful just before your menstrual cycle begins. Some cysts may be felt, while others are too small to be felt. If you have a cyst, you may notice that it comes and goes depending on the hormone cycle of menstruation.
  • Diagnosis and treatment : Since breast cysts are related to hormones, there’s nothing an individual can do to get rid of their cysts. Sometimes breast cysts cause pain. If the cyst is big enough to cause pain, your doctor can perform an aspiration. An aspiration is where local anesthesia is applied to the skin and a needle is inserted into the cyst to draw out fluid. It’s like collapsing a water balloon. After an aspiration, the pain from the cyst is almost instantaneously gone. Other than pain, breast cysts don’t cause any problems. Simple cysts are not associated with a higher risk of cancer.


3.Mastitis: Mastitis is an infection of the breast.

  • Causes: It is most common among women who are breastfeeding and is caused when a milk duct becomes blocked and infected. If you smoke, you’re prone to periductal mastitis, which is inflammation and infection around the nipple areola. This can be related to the impact of smoking on blood vessels. If you have diabetes, you’re prone to mastitis due to poor blood supply. Diabetes over time causes a decrease in the size of the small blood vessels and can cause infections.
  • Symptoms: Mastitis typically presents with symptoms, the most common being breast pain, redness, lumpy, warm, and tender breasts. Other symptoms include fever and chills.
  •  Diagnosis and Treatment: Mastitis is typically diagnosed with exams and imaging, including ultrasound or mammogram. Depending on the severity, mastitis can typically be treated with antibiotics. A surgical procedure is not typically involved with mastitis.


4.Abscess: A breast abscess is a fluid collection or pus pocket in the breast.

  • Causes: Typically abscess is a result of untreated mastitis, a breast.
  • Symptoms: A breast abscess can be very painful. It can present as a red, painful, swollen lump in the breast. You may notice pus draining out of the lump if you push on it and there is a skin opening. Other symptoms include fever and chills.
  • Diagnosis and Treatment:Abscesses are typically diagnosed with an ultrasound. Since an abscess is typically associated with mastitis, neither will get better until the fluid is removed. Small abscesses may be able to be treated with antibiotics alone. However, most abscesses will require a surgical procedure such as multiple aspirations (draining of fluid) or incision and drainage, which is an incision through the breast into the abscess cavity. This allows the fluid to drain so the area can heal. Most surgical procedures are typically done in a doctor’s office. In severe cases, you could potentially require surgery for definitive treatment.


5.Some common breast changes: Most women have changes in their breasts at different times during their lifetime.

  • Before or during your menstrual period: Your breasts may feel swollen, tender, or painful. You may also feel more lumps during this time because of extra fluid in your breasts. Your doctor may have you come back for a return visit at a different time in your menstrual cycle to see if the lump has changed.
  • During pregnancy: Your breasts may feel lumpy. This is usually because the glands that produce milk are increasing in number and getting larger.
  • As you approach menopause: Your hormone levels change. This can make your breasts feel tender, even when you are not having your menstrual period. Your breasts may also feel lumpier than they did before.
  • If you are taking hormones(such as menopausal hormone therapy, birth control pills, or injections) your breasts may become denser. This can make a mammogram harder to interpret. Be sure to let your doctor know if you are taking hormones.
  • After menopause: Your hormone levels drop. You may stop having any lumps, pain, or nipple discharge that you used to have.


Prepared by:  Dr. Ramu Gupta Pharm.D (RGUHS)

Author: Meghan Hansen, MD

Specialty Breast Surgery

Certifications: Board Certified –

  • General Surgery
  • Hidden Scar Certificate of Training

Source: National Cancer Institute, USA