Despite the panic--despite the hysteria--breast lumps aren't always cancer

Finding a lump or experiencing pain in one's breast can be a terrifying event -- one that often raises a fear of cancer.

However, most women who discover lumps in their breasts do not have cancer at all. They are far more likely to have a benign breast disorder resulting from normal hormone changes

Symptoms often stem from fibrocystic breast disease a condition that results from normal hormonal fluctuations that characterize a woman's childbearing years.

Dense or fibrotic tissue may result from the periodic buildup and release of estrogen and progesterone during monthly menstral cycles. Each month, rising hormone levels swell mammary blood vessels, ducts and alveoli, and boost cell growth. With a drop in hormone levels after menstruation, the process is reversed.

Premenopausal women over age 30 commonly experience small cysts, a certain amount of breast pain, swelling and tenderness, nipple discharge. inflammation or changes in the texture of their breast tissue.

However, while the American Cancer Society estimates that one of every two women will seek out a physician to evaluate a breast disorder, only one in three will need a biopsy and only one in nine will be diagnosed with cancer. No relationship has been established between cysts and breast cancer, and women with fibrocystic disease have not been proven to be more likely to eventually develop breast cancer.

A physician can differentiate between benign and malignant lumps by analyzing the makeup of the mass through mammograms or by trying to aspirate fluid from the mass. Lumps that are painful under pressure, and those with no skin thickening or nipple changes tend to be benign. Isolated or growing lumps -especially in women with a family history of breast cancer -- can signal cancer.

Many isolated lumps are benign fluid-filled cysts which can be aspirated by a physician's needle without anesthesia. Cancer is a possibility if the fluid contains blood, a mass remains after aspiration, or the mass contains no fluid, or if an aspirated cyst returns within six months. Women with solid breast mass may need a surgical biopsy.

Diet and hormone therapy can help alleviate the symptoms and mild discomfort association with fibrocystic breast disease. Physicians often recommend affected women eliminate consumption of caffeine and meat, both of which have the effect of stimulating the breasts. Dietary supplements of Vitamin C, E or B complex can break down excess hormones and low dose oral contraceptives may calm hormonal fluctuations. Other remedies include over-the-counter analgesics, warm compresses and a well-fitting support bra.

Most symptoms disappear with menopause, but the need to be vigilant about breast self-examination and mammograms for early detection of changes which may signal canter should be a matter of continual vigilance.

Seventy-five to eighty-five percent of all breast lumps are discovered by women themselves. Any woman over age twenty should examine her own breasts for lumps at least every month, preferably seven to ten days after the start of each menstrual period.

Postmenopausal women should also examine their breasts at about the same time each month. After age 15, women should get mammograms every year or two, depending on their age.

A physical exam is advised once a year conducted by a physician, and twice a year for high-risk patients or hose previously diagnosed with breast cancer.

TO EXAMINE YOUR BREASTS
All women over age twenty should examine their own breasts. Regular self-examination often allows for the detection of subtle changes which are not easily noticeable during an office examination. The best time is five to ten days after each menstrual period when breasts aren't as tender and are not swollen from water retention.

Sit is front of a mirror or lie on your back alternately extending each arm as is done in office examinations. Exams can also be performed in the shower or bath.

Examine each breast with the flat surface of the opposite hand, including the area under your arms. As you gently palpate the breast tissue against the chest wall, noting lumps, masses or tenderness. Squeeze the nipple and look for discharge.

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