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Not necessarily cancer: Benign breast cancer conditions at a glance

Although finding a breast lump—whether through self-exam, clinical exam or mammography—is every woman’s nightmare, in most cases the lumps turn out to be benign. Here’s a description of some common breast conditions that aren’t cancer:

Fibroadenoma: a smooth, solid, round painless lump that moves easily and can feel like a marble when touched. Occurs most often in African-American women and women under age 30.

Fibrocystic breast changes: solid or fluid-filled lumps that increase in size and tenderness five to seven days before each menstrual period.

Cyst: a smooth, fluid-filled lump that is often sensitive to the touch before the menstrual period. Often occurs in both breasts. Typically appears in women between ages 35 and 50.

Lipoma: a soft and slow-growing painless lump that moves freely.

Intraductal papilloma: a small, wartlike growth near the nipple that may cause bleeding from the nipple. Occurs most often in women in their 40s.

Mammary duct ectasia: a thick, sticky, gray to green discharge from the nipple.

Mastitis: a warm, tender, lumpy breast that appears red. Most often affects women who are breast feeding.

Traumatic fat necrosis: painless, round, firm lumps that can result from a bruise or a blow to the breast. Occurs in older women and women with large breasts.

What happens if you find a lump?

If during your monthly breast self-exam you feel a lump, contact your doctor immediately.

Before diagnosing the lump, he or she will probably perform a series of tests. These tests include a breast X-ray (known as a mammography), ultrasound (to determine the consistency of the lump) and a fine-needle aspiration (to test fluid inside the lump).

Your doctor will decide if a biopsy is necessary to remove part or all of the lump.

If you are avoiding a mammography for fear of finding a lump, you could be playing a dangerous game. Since 75 percent of lumps are not harmful, do yourself a favor and ask your doctor for more information about healthy breast care.