More than 232,000 women and around 2,000 men are diagnosed with breast cancer in the United States each year. Of those, nearly 41,000 will lose their lives as a result. As startling and sad as those statistics are, the number of people losing their battle with breast cancer has been steadily dropping. That improvement is thanks to two main factors – better treatment and early detection.
Early detection can take place through mammography (low-dose x-rays), clinical breast exams and self-breast exams. These tests look for lumps, which are the first visible signs of the presence of a cancer.
A lump in the breast is the result of abnormal tissue growth. It is not always cancerous. In fact, most lumps that are discovered in the breast are actually benign. Infection, injury and non-cancerous growths can also cause lumps to develop.
It’s not uncommon for women who are breastfeeding to develop lumps – a condition called mastitis. These tend to develop when the skin around the nipple is injured or cracked, opening the door to infection. Clogged milk ducts can also be to blame for the development of lumps.
Any trauma to the breast can cause localized bleeding or damage to fat cells.
A lump may not always have an obvious cause. Fibrous growths, fluid-filled cysts and changing hormones may also cause non-cancerous lumps to form in the breast.
Lumps as Warnings
In far too many cases, though, lumps are a sign of cancer or a warning of the potential of cancer to develop in the future.
One of the most common forms of breast lumps is Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS). DCIS occurs when cells confined to the milk ducts begin to grow uncontrollably. As long as these cells do not invade other tissues, they can often be removed before they become dangerous. But, while highly treatable, DCIS should be taken as a warning sign of a future cancer. If DCIS is detected and treated, routine exams become especially important.
Similar to DCIS is LCIS – or lobular carcinoma in-situ, abnormal cells that grow in the milk-producing glands. Like its counterpart, LCIS is highly treatable. Unlike DCIS, LCIS is rarely cancerous. Again, though, LCIS should serve as a warning about the need for routine check-ups. Cancer is a high risk in either breast following LCIS.
More warning signs include lumps that form as a result of cell overgrowth in the breast ducts.
Lumps caused by breast cancer have a few additional symptoms. They are usually harder and are irregularly shaped. Most of the time, a cancerous lump will be detected in only one breast. They are generally painless and have irregular shapes.
The skin around the lump may also indicate that it is cause for concern. If the skin is retracted, red, dimpled or pitted, you should contact a doctor as soon as possible and have it examined by a professional.
Biopsies will generally be performed to test lumps for the presence of cancer. Depending on the cause of the lump and the biopsy findings, doctors will recommend a variety of treatments ranging from something as mild as warm compresses to reduce swelling to surgery to remove the lump entirely.
Because most breasts have some degree of lumpiness, it’s recommended that any exam be done routinely and on both breasts. If the lumps that you feel are felt in both breasts, chances are high that it’s normal. If, though, the lump is in only one breast and is more pronounced, it should be examined by a professional as soon as possible.