During the typical woman’s lifetime, she is likely to experience a number of benign (non-cancerous) breast conditions. These include changes that occur during the menstrual cycle and other changes that are not related to a woman's menstrual cycle. Many women experience some symptoms such as breast pain, lumps or nipple discharge by the time they reach menopause.
There are many non-cancerous (benign) breast conditions found among women. According to the American Cancer Society, when breast tissue is examined under a microscope, most women have some type of breast abnormality. These benign breast conditions may cause pain or discomfort, but depending on the condition, treatment may or may not be necessary. Approximately 80 percent of all breast symptoms turn out to be benign.
Three of the most frequently occurring non-cancerous breast conditions are fibrocystic breast condition, cysts and fibroadenomas.
Fibrocystic Breast Condition
Often called fibrocystic breast disease, this condition is not a disease. It is a variety of changes which occur in the glandular and stromal (connective) tissues of the breast and may affect one or both breasts. This condition usually affects women between the ages of 30 to 50. Not all women with fibrocystic condition will exhibit symptoms.
Fibrocystic tissue is a result of hormonal changes seen during the menstrual cycle. Changes in your body’s hormone levels lead to the most frequent symptoms of fibrocystic condition. These symptoms include increased "lumpiness or nodularity" and swollen, tender breast tissue. These symptoms typically are somewhat relieved at the end of menstruation.
Breast cysts are accumulations of fluid in the breast. Cysts can usually be felt in the form of smooth, rounded lumps. They can be moved around in the breast and may also be found deep in the breast tissue. Cysts are most common in pre-menopausal women, but can occur in women after menopause, especially if they are on hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
Normally, only one or two cysts will show up at a time, but in some cases, multiple cysts may appear. Cysts are usually confirmed with mammography or ultrasound. Ultrasound is very good at defining whether the breast abnormality is indeed a cyst or a solid mass.
Fibroadenomas are common benign breast tumors that may often be too small to feel by hand although some may grow to be several inches in diameter. Fibroadenomas are comprised of both glandular and stromal (connective) tissues and occur in women between 20 to 30 years of age. The tumors tend to be round and may often feel like a marble within the breast. Fibroadenomas are usually diagnosed by fine needle aspiration or core needle biopsy.
Fibroadenomas often shrink or stop growing without any treatment. If the fibroadenoma increases in size, it usually needs to be surgically removed. Removing the fibroadenoma usually includes removal of some of the surrounding breast tissue. Surgery may cause some scarring that can be seen on future mammograms. In some cases, multiple fibroadenomas are identified.
More Information on Non-Cancerous Breast Problems:
Non-Cancerous Breast Conditions – American Cancer Society
Understanding Breast Changes – National Cancer Institute
Benign Breast Changes – Susan G. Komen for the Cure