Notice Breast Changes? They May Be Normal
Not all breast lumps indicate cancer. There are a number of benign (non-cancerous) breast conditions a woman can and probably will experience during her lifetime. These include changes that occur during the menstrual cycle and other changes that are not related to a woman's menstrual cycle.
Fibrocystic Breast Disease: Not as Scary as It Sounds
Fibrocystic breast disease affects about 60 percent of all women. This term is often used to describe generalized breast lumpiness, and it is not, in fact, a disease. Physicians and researchers now believe breast lumpiness is among the normal breast changes many women undergo throughout the various stages of their lives.
The condition is common in women between ages 30 and 50. Although the exact cause is not known, fibrocystic breast disease is believed to be associated with hormones produced by the ovaries, because it rarely occurs after menopause.
Recognizing Fibrocystic Breast Disease
Fibrocystic lumpiness is sometimes described as "ropy" or "granular" and seems to become more obvious as a woman approaches middle age and the milk-producing glandular tissue gives way to softer, fatty tissue.
Signs of fibrocystic breast disease include:
Cancer Screening Still Important
Women with fibrocystic breast disease do not have an increased risk for cancer. However, lumpiness in the breasts may make cancerous lumps harder to distinguish.
Knowing the normal shape and feel of your own breasts is important. If you notice changes, talk with your doctor about whether you should be tested for cancer or other problems. Women with fibrocystic breast disease often have dense breast tissue that makes mammograms difficult to interpret. Your doctor may recommend a breast ultrasound or biopsy to rule out other problems.
Routine care is the best way to keep you and your breasts healthy.
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Breast Self-Examination: Doing It Right
The most current research suggests that a breast self-exam (BSE) plays a very limited role in detecting breast cancer. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force does not recommend BSEs because evidence suggests they do not lower the risk for death from breast cancer.
But the American Cancer Society says BSEs are an option for women 20 and older as a means of familiarizing themselves with their breasts so they can notice changes more easily. Talking with your doctor about the benefits and limitations can help you decide if you should start performing BSEs.
If you choose to do BSEs, remember that research shows technique counts more than frequency or regularity of an exam. Be sure to ask your doctor about the correct way to check your breasts.