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A Breast Lump Does Not Always Mean Cancer

Breast Lump Examination

Finding a breast lump through self-examination or from a screening can be a frightening experience. While 80% of lumps are harmless, you still need to make an appointment with your doctor for further evaluation lest you be among the 20% who have cancer or other abnormalities. Early detection will ease your mind and potentially save your life.

Lumps do Not Always Mean Breast Cancer

Only a small percentage of breast lumps are cancerous:

  • Fibrocystic breast changes:                                                      40%
  • No disease:                                                                                   30%
  • Fibroadenoma:                                                                             7%
  • Other benign mammory displeases and neoplasms:           13%
  • Breast cancer:                                                                              10%

While some cysts need to be drained and other growths need to be surgically removed, a small percentage of lumps are cancerous. The cancerous ones often show up in imaging as irregular masses that are firm or hard, and appear to be attached to skin or tissue within the breast.

What Should You do After Finding a Breast Lump?

When you find a lump on your own, your first move should be to schedule an appointment with your primary care provider or gynecologist, who will perform a clinical breast examination and then schedule a more detailed diagnostic mammogram, ultrasound, or other procedures to evaluate the area of concern.

Modern diagnostic procedures are able to detect cancer in a minimally invasive way. Diagnostic mammograms go beyond the four pictures taken of the breast during a screening mammogram and more carefully examine areas of concern by compressing tissue and magnifying the images. Using current technology, the radiologist can zoom in on specific parts of the image to discern abnormalities.

Three Modern Diagnostic Techniques

After mammograms, three other technologies are used to evaluate breast lumps:


Breast lumps can be harmless cysts filled with fluid, fat, or infection, other non-cancerous lesions such as introductory papilloma (a small wart-like growth in a milk duct), fibroadenoma (a benign tumor), or a cancerous mass. The first course of action to determine the type of lump can be ultrasound. When you have this procedure done, you may get the results on the spot or within a few days, with the instructions to see your doctor for further evaluation and/or treatment, to schedule another diagnostic mammogram in a few months, or to resume your normal mammogram schedule.

Needle Biopsy

If the testing shows a need for further examination, the next step is often a needle biopsy. The practitioner uses a slender needle and ultrasound guidance to obtain samples of the lump. If he cannot pick up the lesions on ultrasound, he can use the mammogram imaging. This technology has become sophisticated so that, with the aid of suction, the doctor can remove larger tissue fragments for evaluation and determine the diagnosis.


MRI-guided vacuum assisted biopsy shows tissue masses not apparent in other imaging modalities, and allows extraction of larger pieces of tissue. Breast Lesion Excision System (BLES) is considered a very accurate way to biopsy those with atypical ductal hyperplasia (ADH), which are abnormal cells in the breast with high cancer risk. The system is considered a huge step in making breast cancer treatment an in-office procedure, rather than a surgical one.

Prompt Medical Attention can Save Your Life

Learning that you have a breast lump can be disconcerting, but should not be ignored. By promptly seeking medical attention, you can ease your mind and get the treatment you need early on. Most breast lumps are completely benign, but if your lump turns out to be cancerous or otherwise abnormal, your chances of survival over five years can be as high as 99%, if you have caught the problem before the cancer has spread into the lymph nodes or more distant parts of the body.

For comprehensive women’s health care, including the finest diagnostic techniques if you find a breast lump, contact the Rocky Mountain Women’s Health Center.

Reviewed by Dr. Tappin


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