When we talk about breast disease, the first thing that comes to mind is breast cancer. The reaction is understood, because breast cancer affects more than 250,000 women in America every year and many more worldwide. However, cancer is not the only disease that affects breasts. There are other diseases and learning about them is as important as learning about breast cancer.
Common Breast Diseases
Benign and Malignant Diseases
Breast diseases can be broadly classified into benign and malignant diseases. Most of the breast diseases are characterized by symptoms like, nipple discharge, lump, pain, and swelling. These symptoms are common in both benign and malignant breast diseases. Therefore, understanding of these diseases and their symptoms is the first step to understanding various breast diseases.
Benign Breast Diseases
First, it is important to understand that not all breast changes are related to breast cancer. Fibrocystic breast condition, cysts, fibroadenomas, mastitis, nipple discharge and calcifications are some of the benign breast diseases or conditions which affect millions of women every year.
Fibrocystic Breast Condition
Earlier this condition was known as fibrocystic breast disease. However, it is not a disease. It is a condition that affects millions of women. It is characterized by lumpy breasts. Most of the breast lumps that are detected every year turn out to be due to fibrocystic breast condition. These lumps are round and movable.
In fibrocystic breast condition, breasts usually become painful, swollen, and lumpy right before the menstrual cycle begins. These symptoms usually subside after onset of the menstrual cycle. Moreover, in majority of the cases, menopause marks the end of fibrocystic breast condition.
The lump is painless and feels hard and rubbery to touch. Lumps in this breast disease are usually oval shaped and movable. During pregnancy and breastfeeding, these lumps enlarge and often need to be removed surgically. Another characteristic of this disease is that it affects African American women twice as much women of other ethnicities.
Fat necrosis occurs when the fatty tissues in the breast are damaged due to an injury or trauma. The damaged fatty tissues begin to disintegrate and form firm and round lumps in the breast. These lumps are usually painless. Fat women are more likely to have this disease than thin women. These lumps are usually surgically removed in order to ensure that they are not cancerous.
This benign breast condition occurs when the tissues begin to grow excessively in the lobules. This disease can lead to the formation of lumps known as calcification. The condition is characterized by breast pain. Doctors usually conduct a surgical biopsy to find out whether the lumps are cancerous or not.
They are basically calcium deposits in the breast tissue. When viewed on a mammogram, these tiny deposits appear as tiny white spots. Calcifications are of two types- macrocalcification and microcalcification.
Macrocalcifications are characterized by large calcium deposits and are usually non-cancerous. Macrocalcifications usually occur due to injury, inflammation, and breast arteries getting old due to age. Microcalcifications, on the other hand, are tiny calcium deposits in the breast tissue. They may appear in cluster or alone. A biopsy is needed to confirm the presence of cancer in microcalcifications.
Nipple discharge is commonly associated with breast cancer; however, in reality it often occurs due to a benign condition. Nipple discharge in benign conditions is usually green, yellow, or clear. The discharge usually is from multiple breast ducts or from both breasts in duct ectasia or fibrocystic condition.
In intraductal papilloma and in some cases of duct ectasia, the discharge is from a single duct. In cases of breast cancer, nipple discharge is also from a single duct. Thus, one should see a doctor right away in order to find out the exact cause of nipple discharge.
This in turn will first lead to inflammation and then bacterial infection. In the initial stages, the condition can be successfully treated with antibiotics and needle aspiration.
This breast disease is also caused due to bacterial infection. This disease usually affects women who smoke. In this disease, the proximal duct becomes blocked and then gets infected. The infected ducts then rupture and lead to formation of fistulas. The main problem with this condition is that even after treatment, the abscess can return in another duct.
The breast diseases or conditions discussed above are some of the most common benign breast diseases or conditions. Their symptoms often mimic those of breast cancer. Moreover, the diagnosis tests used for these benign diseases are the same ones that are used for breast cancer.
A mammogram is basically an X-ray of your breasts. This test is quite effective in detecting lumps, cysts, calcifications, and abnormal mass in the breast. Mammograms are also used for finding the root cause of breast pain, nipple discharge, swelling, and bruised breast skin.
Ultrasound uses high frequency sound waves to produce real time images of the scanned body part. The images are displayed on a computer screen. This test is quite effective in distinguishing between a hard lump and cyst.
In MRI scans, powerful magnets and radio waves are used for creating an image of the scanned body part. Since MRI scans provide very clear images, doctors usually use them to take a closer look at a suspicious area in the breast.
In this exam/test, sample of nipple discharge is collected and studied under a microscope. The purpose of this test is to detect the presence of cancerous cells and/or blood in the nipple discharge. If something suspicious is found or if the pathologist is not able to decide for sure that the sample contains cancerous cells, he will recommend a breast biopsy.
This test is also known as ductogram. The test is done to find out why there is blood in the nipple discharge. The doctor first inserts a very thin plastic tube into the duct’s opening in the nipple. The duct selected will be the one from which discharge is flowing out. The doctor will then inject a dye and then take an X-ray of that area. The dye will clearly outline the duct’s shape in the image and the doctor will be able to see if a tumor is blocking the duct or not. If there is tumor inside the duct, breast biopsy will be recommended to see whether the tumor is benign or not. Never Ignore the Symptoms
Now that we are clear about some of the benign breast diseases that commonly affect women, it is also important to understand that you should never ignore any of the breast symptoms. You should never decide on your own that the symptom you are experiencing is related to cancer or not. Seek medical help as soon as possible and let the doctor decide. Timely intervention often makes a whole lot of difference in breast cancer cases.