November 29, 2015
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Breast Lumps In Women (cont.)

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How can a woman be certain that a lump is not cancer?

The only one way to be certain that a lump is not cancerous is to have a tissue sampling (biopsy). There are several ways to perform the biopsy.

Types of biopsy studies inlcude:

  • Fine needle aspiration (FNA)
  • Core needle biopsy
  • Excisional biopsy

Fine needle aspiration is similar to a blood test in that a needle is inserted into the mass and fluid is withdrawn. The fluid and cells are examined by a pathologist for signs suggesting malignancy.

For some patients, a core needle biopsy may be indicated. In this procedure, a hollow needle is inserted into the suspicious area, and a core of tissue is removed through the needle.

To determine the correct location to sample by either method, the lump can either be felt. If it cannot be located in this manner. The FNA or core biopsy may be done during an ultrasound examination or mammogram. FNA of a benign cyst may remove the fluid contents of the cyst and cause the mass to disappear or markedly decrease in size.

If no fluid can be aspirated, and the mass is solid, then a direct tissue sampling must be performed. Tissue sampling using either a core needle biopsy or an excisional biopsy (removal of all or a portion of the abnormal area in a surgical procedure). The excisional biopsy is the best method of making an accurate diagnosis. It is typically done in the operating room using either local or general anesthesia.

How are breast lumps treated?

  • A breast infection (mastitis) in a breastfeeding woman is treated with warm compresses and antibiotics.
    • A convenient and effective way of applying heat treatment is to wet some washcloths and put them in the microwave briefly to warm them.
    • Hot showers are also helpful.
    • During heat treatment, the infected area can be massaged.
    • After heat treatment, which helps open up the milk ducts, either nursing the baby or using a breast pump can help relieve the swelling and pain. Contrary to common myth, nursing the baby or using a breast pump is a critical part of the treatment because it helps decrease the chance of the infection progressing.

If the area actually looks red or fails to get better with heat, massage, and nursing, a doctor should be consulted for consideration of antibiotics. If untreated, mastitis can quickly progress and develop into a severe infection. Whether a woman is pregnant or not, she needs to see a doctor if the area does not return completely to normal with treatment in order to rule out more unusual types of infections. Cellulitis needs to be treated with antibiotics and frequent follow-ups with the doctor.

  • An abscess of the breast often needs to be drained by a doctor because antibiotics alone cannot adequately treat an abscess.
  • Fibroadenomas are usually removed because they may otherwise be difficult to distinguish from cancer.
  • Breast pain (mastodynia) is a common problem. As long as no mass can be felt by the doctor or patient, and no breast lump is seen on a mammogram or ultrasound, breast pain is often concluded to be a normal condition. It is often thought that this pain is caused by natural hormonal fluctuations. If the discomfort is particularly acute and interferes excessively with a woman's life, oral contraceptives or other medications can be helpful, especially if the pain is worse around the time of the menstrual cycles.
  • Fibrocystic changes do not require medication or surgery. Often, a baseline mammogram is done. Then, no further treatment is needed unless a new lump arises, in which case an evaluation with a mammogram and possibly ultrasound is necessary.
  • Breast cancer requires urgent treatment. Treatment depends on the type of cancer detected, its size, and its location.

Medically reviewed by Wayne Blocker, MD; Board Certified Obstetrics and Gynecology


American Cancer Society. Non-cancerous breast conditions.

National Cancer Institute. Breast cancer.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/2/2015


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