Answers to Common Breast Health Questions

Premier Physician Network’s doctors answer frequently asked questions about breast health.

What are some of the most common types of breast conditions with which women may be diagnosed?

Dr. Heck discusses common breast conditions with which women are diagnosed. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

Women can be diagnosed with four common non-cancerous breast conditions, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and GynecologistsOff Site Icon (ACOG).

Those conditions are:

  • Cysts – small, fluid-filled sacs that feel like a soft grape or a water-filled balloon and might cause tenderness
  • Fibrocystic breast changes – swollen, lumpy, tender breasts that occur during childbearing years and after menopause when women use hormone therapy
  • Fibroadenomas – solid lumps found that are well-defined, smooth, and usually painless
  • Mastitis – breast tissue infection that most often occurs when a woman is breastfeeding and a milk duct gets clogged

The National Cancer InstituteOff Site Icon (NCI), part of the National Institutes of HealthOff Site Icon (NIH) sites additional breast changes that are not cancer but can increase your risk of breast cancer. Those are:

  • Atypical hyperplasia – abnormal cells are found in the breast lobules or breast ducts
  • Lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) – abnormal cells are found in the breast lobules (more than with atypical hyperplasia)

For more information about common breast conditions, talk with your doctor.

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Do breast conditions put a woman at a higher risk for developing breast cancer?

Dr. Heck discusses whether breast conditions put a woman at higher risk for developing breast cancer. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

Though most breast conditions do not increase a woman’s risk for developing cancer, some breast changes do.

Cysts, fibrocystic breast changes, fibroadenomas, and mastitis are common breast conditions that are non-cancerous and do not increase the risk of developing breast cancer, according to the National Cancer InstituteOff Site Icon (NCI), part of the National Institutes of HealthOff Site Icon.

Other breast conditions – atypical hyperplasia and lobular carcinoma in situ – can increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer, according to the NCI.

Talk to your doctor for more information about breast conditions that can increase your risk of breast cancer.

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What should a woman do if she has a breast condition that increases her risk of breast cancer?

Dr. Heck discusses what to do when a woman’s breast condition increases her risk of breast cancer. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

Deciding what steps to take after being diagnosed with a breast condition that increases your risk of breast cancer should start with a visit to a doctor who specializes in breast health, according to the National Cancer InstituteOff Site Icon (NCI), part of the National Institutes of HealthOff Site Icon (NIH).

The breast specialist should review your personal medical history and your family’s medical history to decide on follow-up care. This could involve one or more of the following:

  • An appointment with a geneticist to accurately assess your risk of developing breast cancer. This may involve checking for genetic mutations
  • Yearly mammogram and possibly a yearly breast MRI
  • Clinical breast exams every 6-12 months
  • Risk reduction medication
  • Prophylactic (preventive) mastectomies

For more information about what steps to take if you have breast changes that increase your breast cancer risk, talk with your doctor.

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How do a woman’s breasts change throughout her life?

Dr. Heck discusses a woman’s breast changes throughout her life. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

From puberty on, a woman’s breast changes in a variety of ways throughout her lifetime, according to Premier Physician Network[Link to http://www.premierhealthspecialists.org/] (PPN) physicians and the National Cancer InstituteOff Site Icon (NCI), part of the National Institutes of HealthOff Site Icon (NIH).

During puberty, when the ovaries are producing little to no estrogen, breast tissue is very dense. As the teen years progress and menstruation begins, the breasts change and develop the ductal system, according to PPN physicians.

Before and during menstrual periods, the breasts often feel swollen, tender, or painful, according to the NCI. More lumps can be felt during this time because of the extra fluid in the breasts. These changes go away after the menstrual cycle.

With pregnancy and breastfeeding, higher hormone levels will again cause the breasts to change. They will swell as the ductal system prepares for milk production during and following pregnancy, according to the NCI.

As women move toward their 50s, enter perimenopause, and then menopause, their estrogen levels will fall, which causes the breasts to become more fatty, according to PPN physicians. This can cause the breasts to sag. Also with the approach of menopause, breasts can feel tender even without the beginning of a period, according to the NCI. And after menstrual periods stop during menopause, mammograms will become easier to read as the breast tissue becomes less dense.

Talk to your doctor for more information about how a women’s breasts change throughout her life.

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How does estrogen play a role in a woman’s breast changes throughout her life?

Dr. Heck discusses the role of estrogen in breast changes throughout a woman’s life. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

Estrogen plays a key role in breast changes throughout a woman’s life, according to Premier Physician Network (PPN) physicians.

During early puberty, when there is little to no estrogen, the breast tissue is dense. But as menstruation begins, estrogen levels go up and down and the breast tissue responds to the estrogen, according to PPN physicians. The hormone plays a role in the changes to the breast throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding, causing swelling and the preparation of milk production, according to PPN physicians.

As a woman goes through menopause and her estrogen levels fall, the breast tissue becomes less dense and is replaced with fat, according to PPN physicians. For more information about the role of estrogen on women’s breast changes throughout her life, talk with your doctor.

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What are breast changes that should always be evaluated and discussed with a health care provider?

Dr. Heck discusses breast changes a woman should always discuss and have evaluated by her health care provider. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

Though there are many ways a woman’s breast can change throughout her life that are a normal part of aging, there are many other changes that can be a cause for concern and should be evaluated by her health care provider.

If your breasts look or feel different to you, always feel free to ask your doctor about the change. National Cancer InstituteOff Site Icon, part of the National Institutes of HealthOff Site Icon (NIH), states that no change is too small to ask about, and the best time to call is right when you notice the change. Some changes that should definitely be talked about with and evaluated by a health care provider, according to the NCI and Premier Physician Network (PPN) physicians, include:

  • Lump/mass or a firm feeling – Lumps can be all shapes and sizes, and they are not all cancerous. They can be found in or near the breast or under the arm. Breasts by nature are lumpy, so some lumps are normal. Doing a regular self-breast exam can help a woman know which lumps are common and which are new. Thick or firm tissue near or in the breast or a change in the size or shape of a breast should also be a reason to contact your doctor.
  • Nipple discharge – Other than breast milk, nipple discharge – especially when bloody – should be checked. It can be different colors or textures, and can be caused by birth control pills, some medications, or infections.
  • Nipple changes – If a nipple becomes inverted and faces inward rather than pointing out, talk with your doctor about the change.
  • Skin changes – Any itching, redness, scaling, dimples, puckers, or other changes to the skin on your breasts should be evaluated.

Talk to your doctor to learn more about what breast changes are important to discuss and have evaluated

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Thanks to Premier Physician Network’s doctors for answering these common questions about breast health:

Additional Resources

This website provides general medical information that should be used for informative and educational purposes only. Information found here should not be used as a substitute for the personal, professional medical advice of your physician. Do not begin any course of treatment without consulting a physician.

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