If you find a breast lump you will naturally be worried. You can feel lumps in your breast if you practice regular self-examination. But how do you know if a breast lump is concerning? What should you do if you find a new lump? How can you tell if you have breast cancer?
What are the different types of breast lump?
Breast lumps are usually classed as either benign (not worrying) or malignant (cancerous). Benign lumps may be caused by cysts. A breast cyst is a collection of fluid within the breast, normally shaped like a ball. These can be seen on ultrasound scan and may be drained with a needle. Often breast cysts appear rapidly and can vary in size with time. In younger people, swelling of the tissue of the breast can cause a firm round lump. This is a fibroadenoma and it does not need removed unless it grows quickly or is painful. Sometimes the breast tissue itself can be firm and lumpy despite there being no discrete lump present.
When should I be worried about a lump?
It can be difficult to stay calm if you find a lump in the breast. It is safe to wait a couple of weeks to check that it doesn’t change with your menstrual cycle. If the lump doesn’t go away or appears to be growing then you should be seen by a doctor. Also, if you notice any new changes such as tethering (drawing-in) of the skin or new inversion (pulling-in) of the nipple you should seek medical advice.
What about pain in the breast?
Having a painful lump doesn’t mean that it is more likely to be a cancer. In fact, pain often means that there is inflammation and it may be more likely to be a cyst or a bruise. However, this is not a reliable sign and if you have a painful lump which doesn’t go away then you should see a breast specialist.
How do you check if a breast lump is cancer?
You can see your GP who will usually refer you to the hospital for a check. Some private clinics offer breast appointments without the need for a referral from your doctor. If you are seen at a one-stop breast clinic then the consultant surgeon will take a history from you and examine your breasts. They will have a good idea of what they think is causing the lump and will arrange further tests. If you are over 40 years old then this will usually mean a mammogram (breast X-ray) and for most women there might also be an ultrasound (jelly) scan. In order to make a definite diagnosis, it might be necessary to get a needle biopsy of the lump. The results of this will help your consultant decide how to treat you.
Do all lumps need removed?
Not all breast lumps need to have surgery. Depending on the results of tests, your consultant should discuss with you the need for surgery. Many benign lumps can be safely left alone. If you would like to discuss a breast diagnosis with Ms Lucy Khan or Mr Chris Cartlidge, please don’t hesitate to contact us.