Although around 16,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer every year (and one in eight is likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in their lives), it's also important to be aware that 90% of lumps in the breast are not caused by breast cancer - there are a number of other conditions that cause lumps in the breast, often referred to as 'benign' conditions, including...
- Cysts – fluid filled cavities in breast tissue.
- Lipomas – small fatty 'lumps' under the surface of the skin.
- Localised nodularities – lumps that appear generally in younger women's breasts.
- Adenosis – lumps caused by enlarged milk producing glands.
- Fat necrosis – a hard lump caused by a blow, accident or occasionally by surgery.
- Fibroadenomas – harder tissue that often forms in the breast, common in women aged 21-45.
- Fibrocystic disease – lumps that form in the breasts, more common in older women (aged 30-50).
- Intraductal papilloma – a benign growth in a milk duct.
Despite the fact that most lumps are not caused by breast cancer, it is nonetheless advised that women should have all lumps - in fact any changes in the breast at all - checked out by a medical specialist, as it is critical that any breast cancer is diagnosed as soon as possible to maximise the ability to treat it.
It is particularly important to arrange to see a medical specialist where you experience...
- Changes in condition of the skin e.g. redness or any 'dimpling' or 'puckering' of the skin.
- Discharge from a nipple.
- Indentation or flattening of a nipple.
- New lumps in the breast.
It is very important to know how to examine your breasts for lumps and changes yourself. Here is a summary of how to do this...
- In front of a mirror and with hands on hips, do a visual examination of your breasts, then raise your arms in the air. Check for any differences in shape, size or colour between the two arm positions.
- While standing up, feel your breasts for any changes (it may be easier to do this in the shower).
- While lying down, again feel the breasts for any changes. Do this with open palms.
- While examining your breasts with your hands, also examine your armpits and your skin up to your collarbone. Also check your nipples for any discharge.
These checks should be conducted at least once a month (for all women over the age of 20).