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Breast Lumps

What To Do If You Find A Breast Lump

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Updated July 19, 2009

If you discover a lump in one breast, check the other breast. If both breasts feel the same, the lumpiness is probably normal. You should, however, mention it to your doctor at your next visit.

But if the lump is something new or unusual and does not go away after your next menstrual period, it is time to call your doctor. The same is true if you discover a discharge from the nipple or skin changes such as dimpling or puckering. If you do not have a doctor, your local medical society may be able to help you find one in your area.

Don't let fear delay you. It's only natural to worry when you find a lump in your breast. But you should know that four out of five breast lumps are not cancerous. No matter what the cause of any lump you find in your breast, the sooner you start treatment, the sooner you'll be better.

Clinical Evaluation

Taking a complete medical history is the first step in evaluation of all breast lumps. You should be able to tell your doctor what symptoms you've had and how long you've had them, as well as several other things including:

  • Your age
  • The first day of your last period
  • The state of your general health
  • If you're pregnant
  • What medications you currently take, including supplements and OTC medications
  • How many children you've had
  • Whether you have any relatives with benign breast changes or breast cancer
  • Whether you've previously been diagnosed with benign breast changes[/ul

    Next, the doctor will examine your breasts and you'll be scheduled for a diagnostic mammogram to determine what type of changes have occured in your breast. This may be either a lump that can be felt or an abnormality discovered on a screening mammogram. Diagnostic mammography may include additional views or use special techniques to magnify a suspicious area or to eliminate shadows produced by overlapping layers of normal breast tissue. The doctor will want to compare the diagnostic mammograms with any previous mammograms. If the lump appears to be a cyst, your doctor may ask you to have a sonogram (ultrasound study).

    Aspirating a Cyst

    When a cyst is suspected, some doctors proceed directly with aspiration. This procedure, which uses a very thin needle and a syringe, takes only a few minutes and can be done in the doctor's office. The procedure is not usually very uncomfortable, since most of the nerves in the breast are in the skin.

    Holding the lump steady, the doctor inserts the needle and attempts to draw out any fluid. If the lump is indeed a cyst, removing the fluid will cause the cyst to collapse and the lump to disappear. Unless the cyst reappears in the next week or two, no other treatment is needed. If the cyst reappears at a later date, it can simply be drained again.

    If the lump turns out to be solid, it may be possible to use the needle to withdraw a clump of cells, which can then be sent to a laboratory for further testing. (Cysts are so rarely associated with cancer that the fluid removed from a cyst is not usually tested unless it is bloody or the woman is older than 55 years of age.)

    Understanding Breast Lumps and Other Changes Index

    Source: The National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health

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