Beautiful Breasts - Lumps and Pain
Oh, those beautiful breasts can be a blessing and they can be a source of discomfort and concern. Breast problems are common to all women everywhere, regardless whether they are young or older. Color changes, breast tenderness or pain, nipple discharge, breast lumps and bumps, and inverted nipples are common to all. Most breast problems are not an indication of cancer, although they can be disconcerting when they are discovered.
Self-Examinations Reveal Breast Lumps
Perhaps one of the first self-examinations a woman learns to do is the breast examination for lumps. By regularly examining your breasts you reduce the chances of something serious by finding lumps in their early stages. Most lumps are non-cancerous, but they should be evaluated by your doctor to be sure nothing untoward is going on and to determine if testing is necessary.
For women under 30, most lumps are the result of hormonal changes and usually go away on their own. However, if you are a younger woman and have experienced some lumps around the time of your period, have a second breast examination after your period to ease your mind. If the lump doesn't resolve on its own, additional testing may be necessary to determine the nature of the lump, whether it is solid or filled with fluid, mobile or stationary.
If You're Over 30, Have Them Checked
If you are a woman over the age of 30 and you find a new lump, your doctor will probably recommend a mammogram and an ultrasound to determine the nature of the lump. If it appears to be something of concern, aspiration of the lump may be done to determine if it is solid or filled with fluid. After that, if there is still some concern, a biopsy will be done. All of these diagnostic tests are necessary in order to get the right diagnosis and to provide treatment for the cause of the lump. If the mammogram is abnormal, additional imaging will be done using more diagnostic imaging technologies.
Women who are pregnant or lactating may find a lump in their breast and should see their doctor if they do find one. Mammograms are not done on pregnant or nursing women because the breast tissue is too dense and the effectiveness of the mammogram is significantly reduced. Ultrasound has proven to be an excellent method to study a breast mass in a pregnant or lactating woman. Often a plugged gland is causing the problem and it will usually resolve itself. Care must be given to avoid a case of mastitis, a very painful and inflammatory situation caused by plugged glands in the breasts.
Wonderful Hormones - Ouch
Hormones, wonder workers that they are, are often the cause of breast pain and tenderness - especially the hormones that control menstruation. Many women know their period is on the way because their breasts swell and become very tender to the touch. Since this type of pain accompanies the menstrual cycle, it is often referred to as cyclical breast pain and does not usually indicate anything more serious than the onset of menses.
Sometimes a woman may have breast pain that isn't associated with her menstrual cycle (non-cyclical breast pain). It might affect only one breast or a part of one breast. Often this kind of pain is the result of something unrelated to the breast itself, like muscle strain or a skin injury, even heartburn can cause pain in the breast. Breast cancer usually does not cause pain, so the breast pain is probably something else. See your doctor if you are worried about it. He may do some tests to determine if there is a serious problem and he may also reduce or eliminate any estrogen drugs you may be taking.
Breast Pain in Pregnancy and Lactation
Breast pain can occur in pregnant and lactating women as well. Most often, in lactating women, the breast pain is related to engorgement or mastitis. The best thing for engorgement is to nurse if possible. Or, express the milk if your baby isn't able to nurse at the time. Warm compresses help the milk to release and you may find relief rather quickly. If you have a lactation consultant, give her a call to get some input. A pregnant woman may experience pain in her breasts as a result of her pregnancy, the raging hormones that are working overtime during the pregnancy and the fact that her breasts are preparing for lactation. Warm compresses work here as well.
Most of the time breast pain and breast lumps are not serious. However, they can present problems also. In our article in this section on breast problems you can read about some of the common and less common situations women face with their breasts.