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Detection of Benign Breast Conditions

Any breast abnormality that is not a breast cancer is known as a benign breast condition.

Benign breast conditions are caused by changes in the glandular or connective tissue of the breast.

Benign breast conditions are very common. It has been estimated that as many as 90% of all women have some sort of benign condition. Benign breast conditions are not life threatening, although some of the conditions have been linked to an increased risk of developing breast cancer at a later time.

The most common benign breast conditions are benign breast tumors, breast inflammation or infection, and fibrocystic changes.

The American Cancer Society has developed a set of screening guidelines to aid in the detection of breast cancer at the earliest possible time, when the chance for a cure is greatest. Some benign breast conditions may also be detected during the examinations recommended in these guidelines.

Any breast symptom may indicate the presence of a benign breast condition, or, potentially, of breast cancer. Although most breast complaints are caused by a benign condition, a physician should be consulted if any of the following symptoms are present:

  • Swelling of the breast
  • Skin irritation or other skin abnormalities, such as redness or dimpling
  • Breast pain
  • Nipple discharge
  • Breast mass or lump

Many benign conditions cause a breast mass that may be detected by healthcare professionals during clinical breast examinations or by women conducting breast self-examinations. Breast tumors that are too small to be felt are frequently detected during routine screening mammography. If a suspicious breast mass is discovered, the physician may request diagnostic mammograms to further evaluate the abnormality and decide whether a breast biopsy is needed. A breast biopsy is the only definitive test to determine whether a tumor is benign or malignant; however, it is important to remember that 70 to 80% of breast biopsies do not reveal any sign of breast cancer.