Breast Health and Potential Complications
Noticing pain or a lump in your breast is frightening. However, breast problems don't always indicate cancer. They can be part of your normal menstrual cycle or due to hormonal changes. Knowing your breasts and potential complications can help you get treatment early.
Let's take a look at a few common breast health problems and when you need to seek medical advice.
Common breast health complications
Hana Patel, M.B.B.S., a general practitioner in London, often carries out consultations on patients who have symptoms of breast issues.
"The most common symptoms I see are breast pain, breast lumps, changes to the nipple area or discharge, and skin changes to the breast," Patel said.
It's extremely common to have breast lumps or nodules that typically occur during the menstrual cycle. These lumps and nodules can also be related to a person's genetic code that produces these types of lesions more commonly, said Alexander Zuriarrain, M.D., a quadruple-board-certified plastic surgeon with Zuri Plastic Surgery in Miami.
"These lumps are typically known as fibroadenomas and can be sporadic. They are usually not painful, but they can have cyclical discomfort during the menstrual cycle," Zuriarrain said.
A fibroadenoma is a solid breast lump that is not cancerous and can fluctuate in size throughout the month.
"The symptoms of a fibroadenoma would be a palpable lump in the breast. It is typically small and can be tender but should not be painful," Zuriarrain said.
They can occur at any age but are common in young women and often develop in puberty. A fibroadenoma does not increase your risk of breast cancer. Treatment is often unnecessary.
According to Zuriarrain, breast cysts can also occur with increased frequency during a woman's life but tend to become less common after menopause.
"These cysts can disappear on their own, and very few require any sort of surgical intervention," he said.
However, if you find any lump in your breast at any age, get it checked by your healthcare provider right away.
Zuriarrain said less common breast health complications include:
- Mastitis. A painful inflammation of the breast due to infection, making it hot, red and swollen. It's usually associated with breastfeeding, but women who are not breastfeeding and men also can get it.
- Areolar eczema. An itchy, red, scaly rash on your nipples and areola.
- Premalignant or malignant breast masses. Types of breast cancer.
- Paget's disease of the nipple. A rare problem that looks like eczema on the nipple area but can be a sign of breast cancer behind the nipple.
Is breast pain normal?
Breast pain isn't unexpected during the menstrual cycle, Zuriarrain said. Some women experience significant breast tenderness and discomfort throughout this time of the month.
If breast pain is linked to your menstrual cycle, it can start before your period, get worse during your period and disappear afterward. This type of breast pain tends to be a dull, heavy ache and can affect one or both breasts.
Other causes of breast pain include:
- Hormone changes during pregnancy or menopause
- Health conditions, such as a breast abscess or mastitis
- Certain medications, such as the contraceptive pill
- Injuries to the neck, shoulder, or back (sometimes the pain can spread to the breast area)
"Medical support is needed when the breast pain becomes chronic and when it is not associated with normal hormonal fluctuations," Zuriarrain said. "If a woman is experiencing chronic breast pain or changes in the color or texture of their nipple, areola or general breast skin, they must obtain an immediate medical evaluation."
If something seems wrong, don't hesitate to contact your doctor.
What are the signs of breast cancer?
Breast cancer is the second-most common cancer among women in the United States, after some types of skin cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In the United States, a woman's chance of getting breast cancer is around 1 in 8. Remember, however, that 7 in 8 women won't get breast cancer.
It mainly occurs in middle-aged and older women, with the average age at diagnosis being 62. There are signs you can look out for to help recognize breast cancer early.
Patel said symptoms of concern could include:
- A painful new breast lump
- Swelling or thickening of the breast
- Changes or dimpling to the skin of the breast
- Changes to the nipple, such as cracking, inversion or a change in position
- New nipple discharge and crusting
- Changes to the skin of the breast, including redness or feeling hot
- A new lump or swelling in your armpit
More often than not, these symptoms are not signs of breast cancer. But if you have any of these breast issues, it is essential to see your doctor as soon as possible for peace of mind.
The bottom line
As with all cancers, the best way to treat them is to try to detect them early. Always contact your doctor if you ever feel unexpected pain or find a lump in your breast. Early detection is essential.
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