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Breast cancer vs breast lumps: What’s the difference?

When you feel a lump during a breast exam, or your doctor says she feels a lump during your visit, it is normal to be nervous and assume that the lump is cancerous, but according to the Mayo Clinic, nearly four out of five breast lumps that are biopsied end up being benign. If a lump is found, prompt medical attention and evaluation are key for early detection and treatment.

Woman doing breast self exam

Normal Breast Tissue

Breast tissue can vary in its consistency, from bumpy or rope-like areas of glandular tissue, to smoother fat tissue, depending on different areas of the breast. Monthly changes based on your menstrual cycle also can contribute to tenderness of lumps. As you age, breast tissue usually becomes less dense and more fatty, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Benign Breast Lumps

Breast lumps that are not cancerous are benign and are usually caused by fibrocystic changes, says the American Cancer Society. Two of the most common types of breast lumps are cysts and fibroadenomas. Cysts are fluid-filled sacs; they can feel soft or hard in the breast. Fibroadenomas are solid lumps that are usually found in older teens and women in their 20s, but can occur at any age. These lumps move around and feel rubbery under the skin.

Other kinds of lumps that the University of Maryland Medical Center lists include a clogged milk duct, mastitis, injury to the breast, lipoma (collection of fatty tissue), and an intraductal papilloma, which is a growth within a milk duct.

Breast Cancer

Not all breast cancer types have lumps as a symptom. Inflammatory breast cancer does not have palpable lumps and mammograms often find cancer cells and lumps that are too small to be palpable. In inflammatory breast cancer, or IBC, the skin of the breast becomes inflamed, red, hot to the touch, and may look like the pitted skin of an orange; this is called peau d’orange, says the National Cancer Institute. Noninvasive breast cancer like DCIS, or ductal carcinoma in situ, typically does not present with lumps, but is seen on a mammogram, according to the National Comprehensive Cancer Network. Even though a lumpectomy may be surgically performed, no one “lump” may be present; the area where the DCIS is found will be removed.

How to reduce your risk of breast cancer gives you a few tips on how to reduce your risk of getting the second most common cancer, breast cancer!

Learn more about breast cancer

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