Are all breast lumps cancer? No. Lumps in your breast are very common and very few of them are caused by breast cancer.
Tumour -A tumour is a lump of cells, it can be benign or malignant
Benign – A lump of cells that can NOT grow or spread (most benign tumour are not life-threatening, the exception being some types of brain tumour).
Malignant – Cells (or a tumour) that can grow and spread. Malignant cells can be life threatening.
The vast majority of breast lumps are benign, that means they are non-cancerous. Most people who have a breast lump do not have cancer, in fact if you took one hundred women who all had a lump in their breast, 90 of them (90 %) would not have breast cancer (even though they had a breast lump). The same information can be shown using a picture, the yellow people have a breast lump but don’t have cancer, the green people have a breast lump that is cancer.
So what causes breast lumps apart from cancer? In part it depends on your age, some types of breast lump e.g. fibroadenomas are more common in women under 40 while others, such as breast cysts are more common in women over 40 years.
These are benign (non-cancerous) lumps and having a fibroadneoma doesn’t increase your risk of getting breast cancer. Fibroadenomas don’t usually hurt and you can have more than one. They are usually 1-3 cm. The charity Breast Cancer Care have more information on fibroadenomas.
- Breast Cysts
Breast cysts are fluid filled sacs in the breast they can feel soft or hard and can be painful. Many cysts go away by themselves, if they are large and sore they can be drained using a needle. The charity Breast Cancer Care have more information on breast cysts.
- Benign phyllodes tumor
These are relatively rare and are usually found in older women, they can be found anywhere in the breast and can grow quite large, quite quickly. These tumours are usually removed by a small operation (surgery). A phyllodes tumour can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). A pathologist will look at a sample of the tumour and they will be able to tell if it is benign or malignant. Breast Cancer Care have more information on phyllodes tumours.
Breast Cancer Care can also send you leaflets in the post about benign breast lumps. If so many lumps are benign, why should you bother your doctor? Because you can’t tell which lumps need treating (because they are malignant) and which lumps can be left alone. Your GP will have a better idea simply because they have felt hundreds of lumps and bumps and if they are in doubt they will send you to your local breast clinic to have it checked out. If the breast clinic are in any doubt they will remove the lump. It is far better to get this done sooner rather than later because even in the unlikely event that it is cancer the sooner it is discovered the more successful treatment is.
More Information on breast lumps:
If you are reading this because you’ve found a lump in your breast, what should you do? Make an appointment with your GP, you can ask to see a female GP if you prefer and tell them about it, don’t chicken out, make sure it is the first think you ask them about when you get in the door (don’t leave it until the end of your appointment when you are just away to walk out the door). Say “this is embarrassing, but I’ve found a lump in my breast and I’m worried it could be cancer”. Your GP may want to feel the lump and may refer you to a breast clinic, remember this is not a “bad” sign, it can be hard to tell if a lump is cancer or not without doing more tests and that is exactly what breast clinics are there for.