Discovering a lump in your breast as a result of a self-exam or by accident can leave you feeling worried. You’ve probably heard that a breast lump can be one of the first signs of breast cancer, but it’s vital to note that most breast lumps are completely unrelated to cancer. The following will explore in detail the process of checking for breast lumps and the stages involved in determining whether or not you need to worry about any lumps found.
Of course, if you or someone in your family has a history of breast cancer, you might want to take extra precautionary steps. While the genetic component of cancer is still not very well understood, some research has found that links are possible.
When checking for breast lumps, often the main concern is the possibility of breast cancer. Cancerous lumps tend to share a few key characteristics; they’re often hard, irregularly shaped, painless, and fixed to the tissue, making them hard to move with your fingers. Cancerous lumps also don’t shrink but rather continue to grow. The lumps can be found in the breast, collarbone area, or armpit.
If a lump fits this description, it’s a good idea to reach out to a medical professional. In many instances, early recognition of cancer can help increase your options for response and doctors’ ability to intervene before damage is done.
Other Cancerous Symptoms
While some types of breast cancer appear in the form of lumps, there are other types like inflammatory breast cancer that don’t tend to produce lumps. Other non-lump symptoms can include: pain, swelling around the armpit, breast, or collarbones, change in breast size, dimpling of the skin (think of the texture of an orange peel), a nipple that turns inward, breast or nipple skin that turns red, changes color, gets dry, develops flakes or thickens, and unusual nipple discharge like blood.
Cancer is also a spreading illness. If you have unexplained weight loss, bone pain, or shortness of breath in addition to the above symptoms, this could indicate that cancer has advanced past your breast.
While anyone can develop breast cancer, it’s particularly common among:
- Those with a personal or family history of breast cancer
- Those who have their first period before 12 years of age or reach menopause after 55 years of age
- Those who are inactive
- Those who have taken hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
- Those who are overweight or obese
- Those who are over 50
- Those who consume alcohol
- Those who take hormonal contraceptives
It is vitally important that people start sharing the increased risk of breast cancer that comes with taking hormonal contraceptives like the pill. This information is very rarely shared with women at medical appointments, even those who are very young and could end up taking the contraceptives for many years straight.
It also increases your risk of cervical cancer, ectopic pregnancy, heart attack, weight gain, sudden total or partial blindness, pulmonary embolisms, migraines or severe headaches, anaphylaxis, early unintended abortion, high blood pressure, inflammation of the pancreas, insulin sensitivity, depression and mood swings, long-term hormonal regulation problems, and fatal blood clots. Studies seem split on negative emotional impacts, with some claiming there’s no link between birth control and depression and other studies finding that it’s linked with an increase in attempted suicides. Given that 100 million women worldwide are estimated to be taking oral hormonal contraceptives, this is a topic that’s essential for the health and wellbeing of women as well as everyone else, seeing as the hormones once excreted from the body enter the water system.
If You Or Your Doctor Is Worried
Having gone through the above information, you might find yourself feeling worried. Perhaps you’ve spoken to a doctor, and they recommend a biopsy. This can be incredibly nerve-wracking, but it’s worth noting that about 80% of women who get a breast biopsy end up with a negative result that indicates the lump is non-cancerous.
If the lump found appears to be shrinking over time, has smooth edges, is soft or rubbery, changes with your menstrual cycle is easy to move with the pads of your fingers, or is tender or painful, these are all indicators that the lump is less likely to be cancerous.
Types Of Non-Cancerous Lumps
There are lots of possible reasons for a lump in the breast outside of cancer. Two of the most common possibilities include fibrocystic breast disease or cysts. You might also be experiencing smaller fibroadenomas; they’re often solid lumps of fibrous tissue and feel firm and rubbery. Papillomas are wartlike lumps near the nipple area. Abscesses are collections of pus and are often tender to the touch. A hematoma tends to appear in the form of large bruising as a result of trauma to the breast; it often feels tender. Fat necrosis is an accumulation of dead tissue caused by trauma to the breast; it’s often painless.
What To Do When You Find A Lump
First and foremost, when you discover a lump, focus on keeping yourself calm and avoid worst-case scenario thinking. Remember, most breast lumps are not cancerous. Call a healthcare professional to set up an appointment because you’ve found a lump in the breast area; between when you first notice the lump and when your appointment is, check the lump daily to note if any changes occur. Be open and honest with the healthcare provider about your concerns and any risk factors you might have for breast cancer.
Mentally prepare yourself for the possibility that a mammogram, ultrasound, or breast MRI could be suggested. Remind yourself that this doesn’t mean you have cancer; it’s simply a way for the doctor to gather more information about your situation. A biopsy might also be suggested as a method of confirming or ruling out cancer.
When you get your test results back, follow up on what you’ve been told. Ask questions about anything you don’t understand.
Don’t Be Afraid To Seek A Second Opinion
While seeking a second opinion seems like an aggressive action to take, it’s not. Studies have found that 88% of people who seek a second opinion leave the appointment with a new or refined diagnosis. If you feel that something isn’t right or that some of your experiences are being discounted by a healthcare professional, don’t ignore these inklings. Doctors work crazy hours and do the work of several people on a given day; mistakes do happen.
It is particularly important to get a second opinion if you’ve received a cancer diagnosis. Often these diagnoses are confusing and overwhelming; being as informed as possible about treatment options is the best course of action. No single doctor is able to read each and every study and clinical trial occurring worldwide; no one can do that. By asking for multiple opinions, you’re increasing your chances of more information being shared with you.
If anyone shames you for seeking a second opinion, know that you’re doing nothing wrong. Taking an active part in your own health involves getting as much information as you can. Don’t agree to treatments or procedures that you don’t feel are the right option for you unless you’ve spoken to other people about your situation. Advocating for yourself in a medical environment is not a sign of stupidity or weakness; it’s a sign of intelligence. The more information you have and the more people you speak to, the higher the chances are that you’re going to walk away with the right treatment plan for you and your situation.
Regular Breast Self-Exams
A breast self-exam is an at-home screening technique where you examine your breasts for lumps. It can help you identify cysts, tumors, and any other abnormalities. While a self-exam doesn’t replace things like regular mammograms, it does help you become familiar with the shape, texture, and size of your breasts, which can allow you to notice abnormalities much more quickly than if you weren’t familiar.
Many people find standing topless in front of the mirror allows them to visually inspect their breasts for changes in symmetry, size, or shape as well as notice things like dimpling, puckering, inverted nipples, and asymmetrical ridges at the bottom. For the best visual results, look both with your hands at your sides and with your arms in the air.
Next up, massage the breast, starting at the nipple and moving in circles around and away from the nipple. Continue your examination all the way up to your collar bone. Repeat the process with your arm over your head. It’s best to use the pads of your fingers, not the tips, as this will allow you to better sense abnormalities.
As a final step, gently squeeze the nipples to check for any discharge. If there is discharge, note the texture and color so you can relay this information to a medical professional.
If you’re worried about a lump in your breast, seek professional guidance. While most lumps are not cancerous, it’s always good to have peace of mind where your health is concerned. Your body is a communicative machine that is always telling you how it’s feeling and what it needs. Learning to listen to your body and monitor changes in it can help you identify health concerns and act quickly to reduce the risk of complications or harm.