Find out how a breast lump or breast change is evaluated for breast cancer.
Finding a breast lump or other change in a breast might cause worry about breast cancer.
That's understandable. But breast lumps are common. Most often they're noncancerous (benign), particularly in younger women. Still, it's important to have any breast lump evaluated by a health care provider, especially if it's new or if one breast feels different from the other breast.
Breasts contain tissues of different textures, including fat, glands and connective tissue. Some breast-related symptoms, such as tenderness or lumpiness, change with the menstrual cycle. Lumps during this time might be caused by extra fluid in the breasts. Breast tissue also changes during pregnancy and menopause and while taking hormones.
Being familiar with how breasts usually feel makes it easier to detect when there's a change.
Reasons to consult a health care provider include:
Breast and nipple changes can be a sign of breast cancer. Make an appointment with your health care provider if you notice anything unusual.
Evaluation of a breast lump typically begins with a clinical breast exam. During this exam, a health care provider will likely:
If the care provider finds a breast lump or other area of concern, you'll likely need testing.
To further evaluate a breast lump, a care provider might recommend:
Newer tests for breast imaging are being developed and studied.
This involves having a tissue sample removed and examined under a microscope (biopsy). Ultrasound or mammography might help guide the needle, and a local anesthetic might be used. Breast biopsy options include:
After a biopsy, the tissue sample is sent to a lab for analysis. A health care provider explains the results.
A breast MRI requires lying face down on a padded scanning table. The breasts fit into a hollow depression in the table, which contains coils that detect magnetic signals. The table slides into the large opening of the MRI machine.
If the breast lump isn't cancerous, a health care provider will decide if there's a need for short-term monitoring with clinical breast exams or repeat breast imaging. You may be asked to return in 2 to 3 months to see if there have been changes in your breast. Consult your provider if you notice changes in the lump or develop new areas of concern.
A diagnosis in question might result in further consultation with a surgeon or other specialist. A diagnosis might be in question, for example, when a clinical breast exam and the mammogram show areas of suspicion, but the biopsy is benign.
A cancerous breast lump requires treatment. The tumor type and other factors will influence treatment options.