Non-Cancerous Breast Disease

Non-cancerous (benign) breast disease affects nearly every woman at some point. There are a variety of benign conditions. Some may mimic cancerous symptoms, but none are lethal. That’s why it’s useful to know the different types, their signs, and how they are diagnosed and treated.

Signs & Symptoms

Different benign breast conditions will affect your breast in different ways. However, all of them will cause some abnormal change. This may be an unusual lump in the breast tissue, discharge from the nipple, or some other symptom. 

Many benign breast conditions will share symptoms with cancer, such as:

  • Pain, swelling, and/or tenderness
  • Redness or other skin irritation
  • A lump that can be felt through the nipple or skin
  • Nipple retraction
  • Discharge from the nipple that is not milk

For this reason, it is vital to contact a medical professional if you have any of these symptoms.

Diagnosing Benign Breast Conditions

Determining whether a condition is benign or cancerous involves a breast screening. The same procedures that are used to detect cancer will be used to diagnose your condition. These may include:

  • Medical History: You will be asked about your medical history, including whether you or a family member has had cancer, your lifestyle, your general breast health, and more.
  • Physical Examination: A medical professional will give you a full visual and manual examination so that they can note any signs or symptoms of cancer or benign disease.
  • Imaging Tests: A mammogram, ultrasound, or MRI may be administered so that your doctor can get a better view of your breast tissue.

Other possible diagnostic tests include a sample and analysis of any nipple discharge and/or a biopsy of abnormal breast tissue.

Common Benign Breast Conditions 

There are many benign breast conditions, but the following are the most common. While none of these conditions are linked directly to breast cancer, some may increase your risk. You should consult with your breast specialist immediately if you are diagnosed with any of them. 

Adenosis

This condition causes the lobules (milk glands) to enlarge and multiply. It is often found in women who have fibrosis or simple cysts. When the lobules are close enough together to feel like a lump, it can sometimes be mistaken for breast cancer. 

Symptoms of adenosis may include: 

  • A lump that can be felt through the nipple or skin
  • Small white calcium deposits (calcification) 

No treatment is required for adenosis. 

Duct Ectasia

This condition occurs when the milk ducts widen and thicken. This can cause them to become blocked, which can make fluid build up and lead to infection. In other cases, it may not cause any symptoms. Duct ectasia usually affects women close to or past the age of menopause.

Symptoms of duct ectasia may include:

  • Nipple discharge
  • Pain, swelling, and/or tenderness
  • A lump behind the affected duct
  • An inverted nipple

Duct ectasia is often a normal part of aging and will not require additional treatment. Sometimes, your doctor may recommend antibiotics and over-the-counter pain relievers. In rare cases, surgery may be required.

Ductal or Lobular Hyperplasia

Hyperplasia refers to an abnormal growth of benign cells in the breast. This condition can occur in the breast ducts (ductal hyperplasia) or milk glands (lobular hyperplasia). It can be described as either “usual” (the cells look normal) or “atypical” (the cells look distorted). 

Ductal or lobular hyperplasia does not usually cause any symptoms. No treatment is required.

Fat Necrosis and Oil Cysts

Fat necrosis and oil cysts are both caused by damage to fatty breast tissue. Fat necrosis refers to when the body replaces breast tissue with firm scar tissue. Oil cysts are when the cells don’t turn into scar tissue, but instead die and release their contents.

Symptoms of fat necrosis and oil cysts may include:

  • A lump that can be felt through the nipple or skin
  • Redness, bruising, and/or swelling

No treatment is required for fat necrosis and oil cysts unless the lumpy area becomes irritating, in which case surgery may be done.

Fibroadenomas

Fibroadenomas are benign breast tumors composed of both fibrous and gland tissue. They are most common in premenopausal women in their 20s and 30s. Fibroadenomas are often small, round, and either firm or rubbery. They may grow, shrink, and disappear on their own.

Fibroadenomas do not have any additional symptoms. No treatment is required.

Fibrosis and Simple Cysts

Fibrosis refers to a large build up of fibrous tissue. Simple cysts are round, fluid-filled sacs. Both of these conditions are commonly found in women of child-bearing age. Fibrosis may feel firm or rubbery, while cysts may feel round and tender. Either may be mistaken for cancerous lumps.

Symptoms of fibrosis and simple cysts may include:

  • Pain, swelling, and/or tenderness
  • A lump that can be felt through the nipple or skin

No treatment is required unless the cysts are causing discomfort. In this case, your doctor may use a thin needle to drain the fluid and/or recommend over-the-counter pain relievers.

Intraductal Papillomas

These are benign tumors that grow inside the milk ducts. They are usually less than 1 centimeter but can grow up to 5 or 6 centimeters. They are composed of fibrous tissue, gland tissue, and blood vessels. They typically occur in women between the ages of 30 and 50.

Symptoms of intraductal papillomas may include:

  • Nipple discharge (clear or bloody)
  • A lump that can be felt through the nipple or skin

Treatment will usually involve removing the papilloma with minor surgery. 

Lobular Carcinoma in Situ (LCIS)

LCIS is when cells that resemble cancer cells begin growing inside the milk glands of the breast. Unlike cancer, LCIS remains inside the milk glands rather than invading nearby healthy tissue. While benign, this condition does put you at a higher risk of developing breast cancer.

LCIS does not have any additional symptoms. However, because it is associated with a higher risk of developing breast cancer, you should consult with your doctor.

Mastitis

Mastitis is an inflammation of the breast caused by an infection. It usually affects breastfeeding women. It most commonly comes from clogged milk ducts or not fully draining the milk from the breast. Infection can also come from broken skin on the nipple.

Symptoms of mastitis may include:

  • Pain, swelling, redness, and/or tenderness
  • Warmth and hardening of infected area
  • Nipple discharge
  • Fever and headache

Treatment will usually involve an antibiotics course. If an abscess develops, your doctor may drain the pus using a needle or surgery.

Phyllodes Tumors

This type of tumor develops in the breast connective tissue, but can contain both connective and glandular tissue. They are most commonly found in women in their 40s. Phyllodes tumors are rare and usually benign, but can occasionally be malignant.

Symptoms of phyllodes tumors may include:

  • Pain, swelling, and/or tenderness
  • A lump that can be felt through the nipple or skin

Treatment usually involves a lumpectomy. In rare cases, a mastectomy may be required. Because phyllodes tumors have a tendency to come back, your doctor may also recommend additional breast screening.

Radial Scars

These are star-shaped growths that can consist of a mixture of different tissue, including benign ducts, milk glands, cysts, and hyperplasia. They are called scars because they resemble scar tissue when viewed under a microscope. Radial scars larger than 6-7 millimeters have a larger chance of containing pre-cancerous or cancerous cells. 

Radial scars have few, if any, symptoms. Treatment should first involve a biopsy to determine if they are cancerous. Even if they are benign, your doctor may recommend surgery to reduce the risk of cancer developing later on.

Other Benign Breast Conditions

The following are some additional benign breast conditions. Although none raise your risk of breast cancer, each should still be examined by your doctor.

  • Hemangioma: A tumor made up of immature blood vessels.
  • Hamartoma: A painless lump composed of fatty, fibrous, and/or glandular cells.
  • Hematoma: A collection of blood caused by internal bleeding.
  • Lipoma: A fatty tumor.
  • Neurofibroma: A tumor composed of nerve cells.

Next Steps

If you’re dealing with a benign on non-cancerous form of breast disease, we’re here for you. Call us now at (212) 305-9676 or fill out our online appointment request form.