Does finding a lump in your breast always mean cancer? No, most breast changes—even lumps—are benign (non-cancerous). Some breast changes can cause symptoms that are like those from breast cancer, so it can be hard to tell the difference between just symptoms alone. Lumps, swelling, and nipple discharge can all indicate breast cancer, but they are more likely to be symptoms of benign breast conditions. If your symptoms or mammogram results show changes with your breast, your doctor will investigate to find out what it is.
The benign breast conditions below are common in women of child-bearing age, but all women could develop them. Some need no treatment, others do. And some, although considered non-cancerous, are linked with a higher risk for getting breast cancer later.
- Cysts – If you have a cyst—a fluid-filled, round sac within the breasts—you might notice lumps, swelling, tenderness, or pain. Options to ease discomfort may include over-the-counter pain relievers, heating pads, reducing caffeine, and possibly surgery. This condition does not increase cancer risk.
- Mastitis – Breast inflammation and infection may cause pain, redness, and swelling. Mastitis occurs particularly in women who are breastfeeding. Mastitis is usually treated with antibiotics and does not increase breast cancer risk.
- Fat necrosis and oil cysts – Injury, surgery, or radiation treatment may damage the breast and you may notice lumps with thicker, red, or bruised skin. Treatment isn’t needed unless the lump causes discomfort. This condition does not increase breast cancer risk.
- Fibroadenomas – While some of fibroadenomas—benign breast tumors—feel like a hard stone in the breast, others can’t be felt. A mammogram and biopsy are needed to fully diagnose it. Many doctors recommend removing fibroadenomas as they can increase breast cancer risk.
- Lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) – Cells that look like cancer cells can grow in a woman’s lobules (the breasts’ milk-producing glands). LCIS doesn’t usually have visible symptoms, such as a lump, and a mammogram is needed to detect it. LCIS is not considered cancer, as it doesn’t spread further than the lobules, but LCIS increases your risk of breast cancer. Most of the time LCIS does not need treatment, but in some cases, a doctor will recommend surgery. Monitoring LCIS is important, and women with LCIS should talk to their doctor about being screened more often.
Pay attention to how your breasts normally look and feel and let your doctor know about any changes.
For more information on these and other benign breast conditions, visit https://www.cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer/non-cancerous-breast-conditions.html.