Breast Conditions

Your breasts are made up of glands, fat and fibrous tissue. Each breast has 15–20 sections called lobes. Each lobe has many smaller lobules. The lobules end in dozens of tiny glands that can produce milk.

Your breasts respond to changes in levels of the hormones estrogen and progesterone during your menstrual cycle, pregnancy, breastfeeding and menopause. This may make breasts feel more sensitive or painful. You may also notice changes in your breasts if you use hormonal contraception such as birth control pills or hormone therapy.

Benign Breast Problems

Fibrocystic breast changes cause breasts to be swollen, lumpy and tender. The condition is most common in the childbearing years but also can happen after menopause in women who are taking hormone therapy. There is no treatment you can relieve symptoms by applying heat or ice to the breast; taking an over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) such as ibuprofen; and wearing a well-fitting bra.

Breast cysts are small sacs filled with fluid. Some cysts feel like a soft grape or water-filled balloon, but some can feel firm. You may have pain or tenderness in the area of the cyst. The cyst may get bigger just before your menstrual period. Cysts are common in women between the ages of 25 years and 50 years and they usually go away after menopause, although women who take hormone therapy may continue to have cysts. Breast cysts are treated if they are large and painful. If your cysts are causing discomfort, we may drain the fluid with a procedure called fine-needle aspiration. The cyst also may be surgically removed. Birth control pills may be used to help prevent cysts from coming back.

Fibroadenomas are solid lumps that occur most often in young women. Fibroadenomas may appear in both breasts. The lumps have a well-defined smooth shape and are usually painless. In many cases, treatment is not needed. Some women, however, decide to have surgery — a lumpectomy — to remove the lumps.

Mastitis is a breast infection. It most commonly happens when a woman is breastfeeding and a duct becomes clogged with milk and does not drain properly. Infection sometimes can occur unrelated to pregnancy and breastfeeding. Mastitis can cause flu-like symptoms, such as fever, aches and fatigue. Your breasts also may be swollen, painful, have red streaks and feel hot to the touch. Treatment options include emptying your breasts of milk, taking antibiotics, or applying a warm, wet cloth to your breast for 15–20 minutes, a few times a day.


MammographyIf you detect a lump or suspicious area in your breast, we will perform a clinical breast exam. Based on the results of this exam, a mammogram may be recommended.

Mammography can be used to help diagnose a suspicious area or problem or as a screening test for breast cancer. An annual screening mammogram is recommended for women aged 40–75 years.

If a suspicious area or lump is found on a screening mammogram, you will be called back for a follow-up test to find the exact cause of the problem. Follow-up testing may be a diagnostic mammogram, an ultrasound exam or a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) exam.

If the results of follow-up tests are abnormal, you may have a biopsy. The type of biopsy you have depends on several factors, including the size and location of the lump or area.

Source: American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.