A change in your breasts, like a breast lump or pain, can be incredibly alarming. It’s like to send countless questions racing through your head: Is it serious? Should I see a doctor? Could it be breast cancer? Before you assume the worst, know that there are several common breast issues that aren’t cancer.
1. Breast pain
Breast pain, or mastalgia, is very common. About 70 percent of women experience breast pain at some point. One of the more common types of breast pain is cyclical. It’s the pain and tenderness caused by hormonal changes. All women experience this differently. Some feel a mild tenderness; others feel more persistent pain.
Other types of breast pain (or noncyclical breast pain) can occur as a result of problems away from the breast, like a connective tissue strain or spinal issues. Fortunately, it’s unlikely that cyclical or noncyclical breast pain is a result of breast cancer. That said, you should absolutely let your doctor know you are experiencing breast pain if you are worried or if it becomes problematic in your everyday life.
2. Breast lumps
Many breast lumps are either fibrosis or simple cysts. Neither are cancerous. They’re most common in women of child-bearing age, but they can happen at any time in a woman’s life. Fibrosis is a mass of fibrous tissue in the breast, which can feel rubbery or hard to the touch. A cyst is a fluid-filled sac in the breast, and it can feel tender to the touch.
The pain and tenderness you feel as the result of fibrosis and cysts can vary greatly, especially during various stages of your menstrual cycle. If you feel a breast lump, don’t panic. Your doctor will likely order an ultrasound to determine if the lump is solid or fluid filled. And, thankfully, neither fibrosis nor cysts elevate your risk of breast cancer later in life.
3. Nipple discharge
Nipple discharge (or galactorrhea) can be scary, but it’s something that many women experience a year or two after giving birth. The discharge is typically milky and can result from an underactive thyroid or as a side effect of certain medications. If you have clear or bloody nipple discharge that occurs without squeezing the breast, this may be linked to an abnormal growth. To be safe, let your doctor know if you are experiencing either type of nipple discharge.
4. Breast tumors
The thought of having a breast tumor is terrifying, but there are noncancerous breast tumors, like fibroadenomas, that are more common than you may think. Fibroadenomas are often found in women in their 20s and 30s, women can get them at any age. These tumors are round with clear borders, and it’s possible to have more than one. Your doctor will want to do a biopsy to diagnose the tumor and determine if it is fibroadenoma or another issue. Noncancerous breast tumors typically shrink after menopause.
5. Skin changes
Itching, redness, scaling, or crusting can be the result of a rash, mole, cyst, or skin infection. Since breast skin changes can be linked to several causes, speak with your doctor for a complete evaluation.