Breast Lumps In Women (cont.)
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.
In this Article
- Breast lumps facts
- What are causes of breast lumps?
- Infections that cause breast lumps
- Injuries that cause breast lumps
- Non-cancerous growths that cause breast lumps
- What are the symptoms of breast cancer?
- What determines breast cancer risk?
- How are breast lumps evaluated?
- How can a woman be certain that a lump is not cancer?
- How are breast lumps treated?
- Cancer Symptoms Women Ignore Slideshow
- Breast Cancer Slideshow
- Take the Breast Cancer Quiz
- Find a local Obstetrician-Gynecologist in your town
How are breast lumps evaluated?
A manual examination of the breast is an important screening method for detecting cancer and is the first step in the evaluation of a breast lump. Unfortunately, the manual examination of the breast is not perfect. However, if a mass can be felt manually, it is important to estimate the location of the mass so that the mammogram and/or other diagnostic examinations can focus on the particular area. A doctor also inspects any suspicious skin changes that may be a sign of breast cancer. Since the manual examination can miss breast cancer, mammography is also important as a screening tool.
Women with a breast lump need to have a mammogram of both breasts. A mammogram is estimated to be able to detect about 90% of breast cancers. This means that about 10% of breast cancers are missed by mammography. Therefore, if a woman or her physician feels a lump and the mammogram is normal, further studies or biopsies are carried out to rule out cancer. Sometimes, a certain pattern of calcium deposits appears on the mammogram that makes the doctor suspicious of cancer. In these cases, it is often recommended that a biopsy be taken that is guided by mammogram images to be sure the correct area is sampled.
Ultrasound is useful in the evaluation of breast lumps. It can distinguish between a cyst (such as a benign cyst, which is filled with fluid) and a solid lump (which may or may not be cancerous). The first step in the evaluation of a breast lump is to determine whether it is a cyst or solid mass, and this is what an ultrasound can do best. Especially in young women, in whom a benign cyst may be suspected, if the woman's ultrasound confirms a typical cyst, she may not require any procedures or biopsies. If it is unclear on the ultrasound whether the lump is completely a cyst, a further evaluation is usually recommended.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is becoming more widely used in the evaluation of breast lumps because it is particularly sensitive to small abnormalities in breast tissue. MRI is a special radiology technique designed to image internal structures of the body using magnetism, radio waves, and a computer to produce the images of body structures. Cancers require a greater blood supply than non-cancerous growths, and the images obtained from an MRI may help determine whether a particular area is cancerous because the MRI shows greater contrast in those areas with an increased blood supply. In most cases, MRI is performed if results of mammography and ultrasound evaluations are not conclusive.
MRI also has limitations. For example, MRI cannot detect the presence of calcium deposits, which can be identified by mammography and may be a sign of cancer.
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