Finding a breast lump can be frightening for any woman. The worst-case scenario is always breast cancer, but there are several different types of lumps that can develop in a woman's breast that are harmless, including cysts, masses of fiber and benign tumors. More than 80 percent of breast lumps that are biopsied are benign but it's always a good idea to have a lump checked out.
Breast cysts are fluid-filled sacs that are usually the size of a grape. Cysts are common in women in their 30s and 40s and usually stop appearing after menopause. They usually feel like small, water-filled balloons but sometimes can be harder and rubbery. Cysts usually require no treatment and disappear on their own.
Fibroadenomas are solid, rubbery tumors common in younger women in their 20s and 30s. The tumors are benign and are the most common form of breast lump in pre-menopausal women. They are easy to recognize because they move easily under the skin when touched and are not painful. It's not clear what causes these tumors to form.
Lipomas are slow-growing, fatty tumors located between the skin and the muscle under the breast. The growths are common in middle-aged and older woman, are soft and move under the skin when they are touched. Lipomas usually don't require any treatment but are sometimes removed if they are painful or in an awkward spot.
Mastitis is a breast tissue infection that causes pain, swelling and redness. It occurs most often in the breasts of women who have just given birth and are breastfeeding and is caused by bacteria that enters the breast through a cut in the breast or nipple. Though it can look serious, mastitis usually disappears quickly after being treated with oral antibiotics.
While most breast lumps are harmless, some are not. Malignant tumors of the breast can range in size from a small pea to a golf ball and have a different feel than other breast lumps. They are usually hard with uneven edges and the lumps usually don't move when they are touched or pushed on. Lumps of this type are not necessarily breast cancer but should be checked out by a physician. Again, always have lumps checked out by a doctor if they don't disappear after a few weeks. And even if it needs to be biopsied, keep in mind that the vast majority of lumps turn out to be non-cancerous.