A breast lump is a mass, swelling, thickness or bump in the breast. Some lumps are painful and others are not. It depends on the type of lump. The vast majority of these lumps are not cancerous.
Breast lumps are common. They occur in infants due to estrogen in the mother’s milk, in teenage boys and girls due to hormone changes, and in adults due to cancerous and noncancerous conditions. These lumps, including those that cause discomfort, are most common in premenopausal women. According to the Mayo Clinic, seven in 10 women experience breast pain associated with lumps. Of these women, about 10 percent feel moderate to severe pain for five or more days each month.
• Fibrocystic breasts occur when both fibrosis (tissue damage combined with scarring ) and cysts develop. The condition is the most common cause of breast pain in women. Sufferers are often between the ages of 30 and 50. These women experience pain and swelling in their breasts that correlates with their menstrual cycle. The discomfort usually peaks the week before their period and subsides after their period starts.
• Cysts are fluid-filled sacs that feel like balloons or grapes if they are close to the skin’s surface. Cysts also occur in women 30 to 50, and they enlarge and become uncomfortable in response to the changing hormone levels of a woman’s menstrual cycle. • Injuries such as bruises may cause temporary swelling that feels like a lump. These usually heal on their own. • Lipomas are fatty lumps that move easily when touched. They can be painful and are most common in middle-aged women.
• Sclerosing adenosis is an often painful tissue growth. When these lumps appear on a mammogram they’re called calcifications and are usually biopsied to make sure they’re not cancer.
The National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health emphasize that having a history of painful lumps does mean a woman will develop breast cancer, stating that: “Having fibrocystic breast tissue, mastitis, or breast tenderness related to PMS does NOT put you at greater risk for breast cancer. Having fibrocystic breasts does, however, make your self-exam more confusing, because there are many normal lumps and bumps.”
Anecdotally, some women have been able to escape breast pain by avoiding caffeine, reducing the amount of fat in their diet, exercising regularly and taking Vitamin E, Vitamin B complex and evening- primrose-oil supplements.
Women who experience discomfort usually treat it successfully with over-the-counter medicines such as aspirin, ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Some menstruating women find relief by taking birth-control pills. Some menopausal women find relief by discontinuing hormone-replacement therapy.
Women who get to know their breasts through monthly breast self exam (BSE) are better able to differentiate what is normal lumpiness for their breasts and what is new and perhaps suspicious. If you have a breast lump--painful or not--that lasts longer than one full menstrual cycle, you should contact your doctor.