Imagine you’re living your life, taking care of your health, getting the recommended screening mammograms and periodically performing breast self-checks, and you notice a lump. How worried should you be?
In most circumstances, a situation like this means it’s time to make an appointment with your healthcare provider but know that not every lump and bump you feel in your breast is a tumor.
How Do You Know if It’s a Breast Cyst vs a Tumor?
Many breast lumps are cysts — fluid-filled sacs that commonly occur and are considered a normal fibrocystic change in the breast. Cysts can form in the thin walls of the breast’s soft tissues as a result of hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle. Women can develop cysts at any age, but they’re typically seen in late menstruation years or during menopause if you’re taking hormone replacement therapy. Cysts are classified as:
- Simple, meaning cysts contains only fluid
- Complicated, meaning the cysts include debris in the fluid
- Complex cystic and solid mass, meaning cysts have some solid components or walls that are thick
Most of the time, cysts are harmless, but they may feel the same to the touch as benign tumors or malignant tumors. Complex cystic and solid mass cysts have a higher risk of being cancerous. For these reasons, it’s important to seek a diagnosis if you find a lump.
Is It Easy to Tell the Difference Between a Cyst and a Tumor?
It’s not easy for most people to tell the difference between a cyst and a tumor, but your healthcare provider is equipped to do it with the help of diagnostic tests.
When it comes to cysts, they start very small and may grow to about the size of a cherry or grape, but they can get bigger. Breast cysts are usually round or oval, movable to the touch, and may develop in groups. They can be painful, especially just before your period.
When healthcare providers suspect a breast cyst, they order a breast ultrasound to determine if a lump is fluid-filled. Simple cysts don’t usually need additional testing. Your healthcare provider may order a fine needle biopsy (collecting fluid from the cyst through a needle) for complicated cysts or a biopsy (surgically removing a little piece of the tissue from the cyst) for complex cystic and solid mass cysts to look for cancer cells.
When there is no cancer, it’s not typically necessary to treat the cyst unless it’s causing discomfort. When a cyst requires treatment, your healthcare provider will use a needle to drain fluid from it, which should alleviate cystic pain.
What Kind of Breast Lump Should I Worry About?
Try not to worry if you find a breast lump but do take action. Schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider without delay about any breast change or lump, particularly a newly developed one, for a proper diagnosis.
If there is a malignancy, finding and treating cancer early is essential for a favorable outcome.
Talk to a Professional
Learn more about St. Elizabeth breast center locations near you and the services offered at each, which include breast ultrasound, screening mammography, diagnostic breast imaging and more.