You feel a lump and immediately think: "cancer." That's understandable: Breast cancer accounts for nearly one in three cancers diagnosed in women. Any growth or change in your breast needs to be evaluated by a doctor as soon as possible, but many times these changes are caused by benign conditions. Here are three examples:
Breast lumps. They could be cysts. Round- or oval-shaped fluid-filled sacs are not cancerous, nor do they raise your risk of later developing the disease. They're most often found in women in their 40s. No one knows what causes them, but some science suggests excess estrogen may play a role; in fact, cysts can become painful just before menstruation. To check whether a mass is a cyst, your doctor will need to do an ultrasound or fine-needle aspiration biopsy. If the cyst is large and painful, it can be drained. To ease discomfort from smaller cysts, try consuming less salt - some experts suggest that may help.
Nipple discharge (that's not milk). This is sometimes caused by non-cancerous growths called intraductal papillomas that develop within breast ducts. Single tumors in the large milk ducts near the nipple result in clear or bloody discharge, but in most cases, they do not raise breast cancer risk. Tell your doctor about any discharge (other than milk), especially if it's bloody, which sometimes does indicate breast cancer. If a papilloma is diagnosed, your doctor probably will remove it and a part of the duct the tumor was found in.
Pain. If you feel a dull ache in your breasts around your period, the pain could be linked to your menstrual cycle. Often it'll resolve on its own, but over-the-counter pain relievers or a supportive bra can help with mild discomfort. Though pain is rarely associated with breast cancer, you still want to talk to your doctor about any new symptom or breast change to confirm.
- The Doctors is an Emmy-winning daytime TV show with pediatrician Jim Sears, OB-GYN Lisa Masterson, ER physician Travis Stork, and plastic surgeon Andrew Ordon. Check www.thedoctorstv.com for local listings.