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Centers for Breast Health

Benign Breast Changes

Many breast problems– such as a prominent breast lump, breast pain or infection–are usually benign/non-cancerous. All the same, if you have any of the breast changes listed on this page, be sure to have your breasts checked by your health care provider.

Fibrocystic breast changes

Have you ever felt a bumpy texture or “lumpiness” in your breasts? This lumpiness, plus tenderness or pain at certain times of the month, is called fibrocystic [FI-bro-sis-tic] breast changes. These changes are a normal part of the menstrual cycle. You are most likely to notice them in the premenstrual phase of your cycle, or if you are past menopause, when taking hormones. Fibrocystic changes do not increase your chance of getting breast cancer. In contrast, a breast change that should be checked is one that does not change with your cycle. Any persistent lump or thickening should be checked by your health care provider.

Have you found a new breast lump?

Do not panic, but have it checked by a health care provider right away. Even if you have had cysts or fibroadenomas in the past, do not assume that a new lump will be the same. The lump may not turn out to be cancer, but it is best to make sure.

Warning signs you need to know

If you notice any of these things in your breast, see your health care provider:
  • lump, hard knot or thickening
  • unusual swelling, warmth, redness or darkening
  • change in the size or shape
  • dimpling or puckering of the skin
  • an itchy, scaly sore or rash on the nipple
  • pulling in of the nipple or other parts
  • nipple discharge that starts suddenly
  • pain in one spot that does not vary with your monthly cycle

Certain breast problems, such as infections, nipple discharge or itchy nipples usually are not cancer, but can look just like symptoms of some rare types of breast cancer.
 
On the other hand, a more uncommon form of breast cancer, inflammatory breast cancer, often appears with swelling and redness of the breast without a distinct lump. It is sometimes mistaken for an infection.

No matter what the diagnosis, if you feel that something is wrong, ask for a biopsy or get a second opinion. After all, no one knows your body better than you.


TYPES OF BREAST CHANGES FOUND MOST OFTEN IN...
RELATIONSHIP TO CANCER
Cyst
a fluid-filled sac that feels like
a soft lump or a tender spot
  • women ages 30 to 50
  • postmenopausal women taking hormones
  • typically is not cancerous
  • does not increase your chance of getting breast cancer in the future
Fibroadenoma
[FI-bro-ad-eh-NO-ma] a smooth, rubbery or hard lump that moves easily within the breast tissue
teenagers and younger women
African American women
sometimes found in post-menopausal women taking hormones
typically is not cancerous
if the lump contains certain types of cells, you may have a three times greater chance of developing breast cancer
a rare type of cancer that occurs in less than one percent of fibroadenomas
Cyclical
breast tenderness that varies over the
menstrual cycle
  • menstruating women
  • postmenopausal women taking hormones
  • not associated with breast cancer
Non-cyclical
constant pain in one spot that does not vary over the monthly cycle
  • women of all ages and ethnicities
  • often from a new or enlarging cyst
Non-breast-origin
pain in the chest wall or ribs under the breast
  • women of all ages and ethnicities
  • not related to breast cancer, but may be another medical problem that should be checked

Resources
Book: Dr. Susan Love’s Breast Book, 4th ed. by Susan M. Love with Karen Lindsey. 2005 (Addison-Wesley). See Chapters 4 through 6.
Internet: American Cancer Society; www.cancer.org See topic: Benign Breast Conditions

Related fact sheets in this series:

  • Breast Cancer Detection
  • Mammography
  • When You Discover a Lump
  • Biopsy

The above list of resources is only a suggested resource and is not a complete listing of breast health and breast cancer materials or information. The information contained herein is not meant to be used for self-diagnosis or to replace the services of a medical professional. Komen for the Cure does not endorse, recommend or make any warranties or representations regarding the accuracy, completeness, timeliness, quality or non-infringement of any of the materials, products or information provided by the organizations referenced herein.

Developed in collaboration with the Health Communication Research Laboratory at Saint Louis University. ©2007 Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Item No. 806-377 9/07