Diseases and Disorders of the Breasts

Breast cancer is not the only disease associated with breasts. In fact, many disorders of breasts are typically benign. Here are some examples:

Fibroadenoma and related tumors

These are often small, benign (non-cancerous) tumors made up of connective tissue and epithelia proliferation. The tumor feels rubbery and smooth and has tendencies to move around. This condition occurs in young women, 16 to 25 years of age. Fibroadenoma is thought to be related to estrogen production. The condition is more common in women taking oral contraceptives. These usually non-cancerous tumors should be evaluated by a physician.

Cysts of the breast

This is a common condition caused by presence of fluid-filled pouches in the breasts. Significant pain can be associated with cysts, which may be related to fibrocystic breast condition (please see the section on FBD). Cysts are rarely seen in women before the age of 30 with a peak incidence rate between 35 and 50. This condition can be effectively treated with needle aspiration where a needle is inserted into the cysts and fluid is removed.

Breast pain and nodularity

Click here for more information on fibrocystic breast disease.

Sclerosing adenosis

This condition is characterized by the presence of a small mass, 2cm or less, that is firm but poorly defined. The mass is often attached to surrounding breast tissue. Typcially the mass is accompanied by breast pain. The only way to distinguish it from a cancerous mass is by histology (microscopic examination of the tissue). This requires a needle biopsy of the mass.

Periductal mastitis

Periductal mastitis can cause severe breast pain in a significant number of women. The periductal inflammation occurs in non-lactating women when the milk ducts near the nipple become inflamed, thus causing extreme breast pain. Other symptoms of this condition are a mass near the nipple, retraction of the nipple, or discharge. Treatment includes antibiotics or, in severe cases, surgery. The pain is described as throbbing and is often accompanied by redness and warmth of the surrounding tissue.

Nipple discharge

Nipple discharge can occur spontaneously or following pressure placed around the nipple area, and the condition can be indicative of some underlying breast pathology if it occurs in non-lactating women. Nipple discharge is a relatively uncommon complaint, but when seen the cause needs to be thoroughly investigated. The discharge can be, clear, white, bloody, or yellowish in color. A milky secretion unrelated to lactation can be physiological and not an indication of pathology. On the other hand, bloody or serous (watery) discharge can be due to a presence of papilloma. A papilloma is a benign growth in the subareolar duct.