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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 do the biopsy.

Types of biopsy studies inlcude:

  • Fine needle aspiration (FNA)
  • Needle core biopsy
  • Excisional biopsy

Fine needle aspiration is similar to a blood test in that a needle is inserted and fluid is withdrawn. The fluid and cells are examined by a pathologist for signs of abnormal or cancerous cells.

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

To determine the correct location to sample by either method, the lump can either be felt, or if it cannot be felt, the FNA or core biopsy may be done during an ultrasound 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 biopsy or an excisional biopsy (removal of all or a portion of the abnormal area in a surgical procedure) is the best method of making an accurate diagnosis. An excisional biopsy is 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, because mastitis can progress quickly 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 are difficult to distinguish from cancer until they are removed.
  • 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 Steven Nelson, MD; Board Certified Obstetrics and Gynecology


American Cancer Society. Non-cancerous breast conditions.

National Cancer Institute. Breast cancer.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/1/2014

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Breast Lumps In Women - Diagnosis Question: Please describe the diagnosis of the breast lumps in your breast(s).
Breast Lumps (In Women) - Causes Question: What was the cause of your breast lumps?
Breast Lumps - Symptoms Question: What symptoms and signs did you experience with your breast lumps?
Breast Lumps in Women - Injuries Question: Did you injure your breast? If it formed a lump, did you have it examined? What was the outcome?
Breast Lumps in Women - Benign Lumps Question: Please share your experience with the discovery and diagnosis of non-cancerous breast lumps.

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