Breast Lumps, Bumps and Pain: What's Normal and What's Not

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Other breast conditions

In addition to lumps, there are several other conditions to look out for.

Thickened and/or dimpled skin

What it is: This is usually a symptom of breast cancer. Cancers defy gravity. Unlike benign conditions, they don't move with the breast, resulting in puckered or bulging skin.

What to do: First, remember that 90 percent of women who catch breast cancer early survive. But to be one of them, you must get a proper diagnosis and treatment. See your doctor. She will examine you thoroughly, then follow up with a mammogram. If there's a possibility that it's cancer, she may perform a needle biopsy, inserting a small needle into the lump to retrieve a cell sample to be reviewed by a pathologist for diagnosis.

General breast pain

What it is: General pain and tenderness in both breasts is a common occurrence. It's sometimes accompanied by swelling due to water retention, occurring about two weeks before monthly menstruation and subsiding afterward. This is usually normal -- pain caused by hormonal changes in the monthly cycle.

What to do: Cut down on salt and fat intake to help reduce the swelling and tenderness, and keep your system hydrated by drinking lots of water. A good dose of exercise can help, too; it pushes out excess fluids and gives you a kick of endorphins, feel-good chemicals that give you an overall boost.

Persistent pain

What it is: This pain is different than cyclical breast pain in that it's located in a specific spot and does not come and go with the monthly cycle. Sometimes -- but not often -- it can indicate cancer. It may be the result of a cyst or physical injury.

What to do: See your doctor. She will examine you thoroughly to determine the cause. If she suspects it's a problem, she'll then follow up with a mammogram. If there's a possibility that it's cancer, she may perform a needle biopsy, inserting a small needle into the lump to retrieve a cell sample to be reviewed by a pathologist for diagnosis.

A scaly or tender nipple

What it is: An open, itchy sore on one nipple that resembles eczema. It could be a simple skin irritation. In a few women, this is a sign of Paget's disease, a rare form of breast cancer.

What to do: If this condition does not respond to over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream and persists for more than a week, see your doctor immediately. She will examine you and may perform a mammogram and a special type of biopsy designed for the nipple.

Nipple discharge

What it is: Persistent clear or bloody discharge from one nipple may indicate cancer or a precancerous condition in one of your breast ducts. If the discharge is gray, brown, green or white and comes from both nipples, it's usually a normal response to pressure on the breasts.

What to do: See your doctor immediately. She will sample some of the discharge to be evaluated in a lab. Then, she'll carefully examine your breast. You may be given a mammogram and a ductogram, a simple procedure in which a thin plastic catheter is inserted into the nipple to shoot dye into the duct. Then, the breast is X-rayed to indicate the problem. If there's a suspicion it's cancer, the doctor will perform a specialized biopsy to sample cells for diagnosis.

 

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