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Breast health discussions often focus on cancer, but not every lump is cancerous — here’s what you need to know about breast health as a whole.
Conversations around breast health have always focused on looking out for early symptoms of breast cancer. But not every lump or bump that we feel is necessarily cancerous.
As women, our lives are always going through changes, physically and mentally. We learn new things about our bodies and their needs. The constant need to be aware of these changes, especially changes in our breasts, can be stressful.
But these changes are often normal and the result of age, hormones, food intake, medical conditions, stress, and environment. Here are some medical breast health conditions that we should know about, which are not necessarily cancerous.
The problems and ailments related to breasts are plenty. Yet, since many of these ailments have common and similar symptoms, and not knowing what we have can be extremely confusing. Swelling, lump formation, discharges from nipple, calcifications of nipple skin and pain in breasts occur in many women, and are not unusual at all.
Finding these conditions should not ring an alarm and cause distress. The changes our breasts go through can be varied and unique from person to person as well.
Mammograms, ultrasounds, and x-rays frequently pick up on these conditions, which are not necessarily cancerous. The American Cancer Society identifies them as Non-Cancerous Breast Conditions. Hence, do not panic, but equip yourself with information, and consult a medical professional for sound guidance.
Lumps, finding them in our bodies can be scary, and they are of different types of lumps. They can happen at any point in life and pop up without a warning. How do we identify them?
Just when our PMS begins, our breasts often feel heavy, there is a sudden thickening, rubber-ness and swelling to them. Lumpiness before periods is common, but because of their ambiguous nature, they create fear and this added stress is not something we want in life.
These changes may happen because of the fibrous tissues in our breasts, which conjoin together and create lumps. It is typically found in people who are between their child-bearing ages. They are more common than we think and are usually temporary and not necessarily cancerous.
Their formations can happen due to various factors. They can be hard, tender, large, or small. Some kinds of lumps go undetected for years, while others form overnight. Hence, to reduce the stress, we need to do regular self checks and visit doctors periodically.
Besides lumps, there could also be cysts, which you may encounter. Ever touched your breasts, and felt something round move underneath the skin?
Cysts are fluid-filled round sacs which form because of hormonal changes. They primarily occur between the age of 30 to 40, but have been found in other age groups but in lesser number. They are also known as cystic fibrosis.
Our breast health is also aligned with our hormones. Cysts can grow in size to become noticeable and cause pain just before the menstruation cycle begins.
There are also different kinds of cysts, which range from simple cysts, complicated cysts, and complex cystic and solid mass. The first two have higher chances of being benign, the third type needs to be consulted with a doctor.
When our glandular tissues and stromal tissues conjoin, they can form solid, round, rubbery lumps which move. These are benign tumours which are most commonly found in people in the 20-30 age group. These tumours are called Fibroadenomas, also known as solid breast lumps.
Fibroadenomas are sometimes hard to spot while conducting a self breast health check up because they are too small; and only ultrasound and mammograms can find them. The ones that can be felt are well-defined and can be moved around. If you find one, seeking a doctor’s advice is best.
These tumours are found in two types; simple fibroadenomas and complex fibroadenomas. The ones which grow in size and happen at an older age are labelled complex.
One of the most common physiological purposes of female breasts is to produce milk; milk for suckling infants. Finding a sudden wart swelling forming on your nipples or having discharge can cause concern.
Warts, a non-cancerous outward growth, forms when our gland tissues, fibrous tissues and blood vessels merge together. There are two types of warts (or papillomas as they are known), and they can be a bit painful.
Solitary papillomas are a single tumour that grows in the large milk ducts nearing the nipple. They can commonly cause bloody or clear discharge from the nipples.
On the other hand, multiple papillomas are several growths that can be found further from the nipple in smaller milk ducts. They don’t cause discharge generally, but need to be checked with doctors.
Milk ducts are a system of milk drainage, sometimes breasts get blocked due to a variety of factors. A nursing mother might face clogged ducts when the breasts are not emptied after a feed. Sometimes stress can lead to hormonal imbalances which disrupt milk production and results in swelling, this condition is also known as breast engorgement.
At times, a blockage may feel like a lump, which can raise a false alarm. Clogged ducts can cause pain, swelling, opening up of nipples and formation of small blisters and redness of nipple.
Breast engorgement, can be treated with doctor’s advice and need not give you a hard time as they are temporary.
Duct Ectasia is also known mammary duct ectasia, which is a symptom common to people nearing their menopause or in their perimenopause state.
Milk ducts widen and the walls thicken, which leads to block ducts and fluid build up. It can generally be identified with sticky thick nipple discharge, the area around the nipple may turn red and get pulled inward.
Multiple breast health researchers have shown there are no direct relations to cancer. But people often mistake it for cancer fright due to scar tissues teaming up with abnormal ducts, giving rise to a temporary hard lump. But to retain the peace of mind, getting a doctor’s advice is better.
When a non-nursing woman who has not given birth or is not breastfeeding but is lactating, it is a symptom of galactorrhea. It is more common than people realize and is also found in women nearing menopause, occasionally in men and infants have galactorrhea!
The most common sign is milky discharge from nipples, despite having no relation to milk production.
Galactorrhea is a symptom of underlying issues in our bodies. The pituitary gland, which is responsible for hormone production in our bodies; creates prolactin as well, which causes lactation during pregnancy. One can face pituitary disorders which might produce more prolactin to result in milky discharges.
This condition can be a symptom of other problems like chronic kidney diseases, spinal cord injury, nerve related issues or hormonal imbalance caused by birth control or prescription medicine.
There have been no proven links between the Galactorrhea and cancer. But a doctor needs to be consulted to uncover other hidden conditions in the body.
Mammograms are a special medical method of scanning, where low-dose x-ray is used to picture the breast to look for early signs of breast cancer. A person is made to stand in front of the x-ray machine, and the breasts will be cupped between two breasts plate for the scan. It can be really uncomfortable and cause pain in some cases.
There are three types of mammograms:
Mammograms are a preventative measure, people with family history of cancer who are at high risk, are advised to do regular check up after consulting with their general practitioner. The American Cancer Society, advises women between the age group of 50-70 to get checked every two years.
Some healthcare professionals have asked women to start early check-ups after they turn 40, and conduct mammograms every two to three years; women within the age group of 25 to late 30s must opt for clinical check-ups rather than mammogram screening.
Mammograms, though are considered safe and useful technology, have low-doses of radiation, and being exposed to radiation from a younger age is advised against.
In India, multiple chains of hospitals provide healthcare packages which include mammograms, but it is always better to talk to your doctor before signing up for a session. Not all mammograms detect cancer, and have dictated false cancer positives cases because of benign extensions mimicking non-benign tumours’ traits.
Our lives are already so stressful, and we are all one google search away from false alarms and paranoia. We must remember each person’s breasts are different from the other.
Being vigilant and conducting self breast health examinations every week are always the best means to prevent bigger problems. Learning about our bodies and having self check-ups without feeling shame is the first step. Setting up annual clinical check-ups with a general practitioner is the second step.
If you have non-cancerous breast conditions, and are in pain, there are cures and treatments for them. When in doubt, it is best to consult a doctor and free our minds of worry.
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