As we age, our bodies go through changes. These changes are inevitable and part of the natural aging process. However some of them can cause alarm—and not always for good reason. One such bodily change may include lumps in the breast tissue, which can raise concerns about cancer. Not all lumps in the breast are cancerous, though. So, what’s the difference?
What are Breast Lumps
Breast lumps can occur for a variety of reasons unrelated to cancerous tumors, such as the formation of a cyst or a condition called fibrosis.
Cysts in the breast are small lumps that tend to be round and will move when pressed. They tend to have a firm texture with distinct edges.
Cysts are essentially liquid-filled pockets nestled within the breast tissue, and are generally harmless and require no medical treatment. Some cysts become large in size and can become uncomfortable; in these cases, a doctor may drain the cyst of its liquid in order to reduce its size and restore comfort.
Fibrosis is a condition in which fibrous tissue (similar to scar tissue) masses together in an area of the body. This may happen in breast tissue, causing a lumpy look and feel to the affected breast(s). With fibrosis, lumps may feel firm and there may be a multitude of them. Like cysts in the breast, fibrosis of the breast generally does not require any medical treatment.
The Difference Between a Breast Lump and a Tumor
Breast cancer can manifest in a variety of ways. While a cyst tends to be a lump that is isolated and is not accompanied by other symptoms, a lump that is malignant—a tumor—often goes hand-in-hand with other changes to the breast. Some of these changes that are associated with breast cancer include:
- Change in size or shape of the breast (sudden, dramatic swelling or size reduction)
- Change in texture of breast skin, particularly near the nipple area
- Change in shape or protrusion of nipple (sudden inversion or flatness of the nipple)
- Irritated, inflamed skin on the breast
Your cyst or lump needs medical evaluation to be sure it’s not cancer. In order to diagnose you, your physician may take a needle biopsy of the lump in order to determine whether it is cystic in nature, and may order a screening test in order to get a clear image of the breast tissue.
How to Reduce Discomfort Associated With Breast Cyst
Breast cysts can cause discomfort and breast pain, and in this case you can try to minimize the discomfort with these recommendations:
- Wear a supportive well-fitted bra that supports the surrounding breast tissue.
- Reduce caffeine intake. While there is no scientific evidence that caffeine consumption is linked to breast cysts, some women find relief from their discomfort after reducing caffeine intake or eliminating caffeine from their diets.
- Reduce salt intake. While the scientific evidence about the link between salt and breast cyst is not conclusive, some experts suggest that consuming less salt reduces the amount of excess fluid retained by your body, which can relieve symptoms associated with a fluid-filled breast cyst.
- Take evening primrose oil supplement. Scientific evidence is not conclusive, but a few small studies suggest that this supplement can help minimize breast pain sometimes associated with breast cysts.