Many things come to mind when I think of October. Mean Girls (October 3rd, anyone?), Halloween, and most of all Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I'd be remiss if I didn't take this opportunity to say, "In October, we wear pink." For the cause, of course. This is a cause near and dear to our hearts as women but also because we all know and love someone who has been impacted by breast cancer. Not only is the month dedicated to them but it's also dedicated to creating awareness and funding around preventative measures.
Why Breast Self-Exams Are Important
Unfortunately, for Black women, we're already overlooked in the healthcare system which likely has a lot to do with why the mortality rate associated with breast cancer is higher for us despite being diagnosed at similar rates as our white counterparts. In addition to having a trusted physician on your side (ahem, one that looks like you), this means we have to take extra care and remember to do our regular lump checks outside of office visits. Furthermore, thorough screening for breast cancer isn't offered as a recommendation for those under the age of 40. Thing is, "11 percent of all new cases in the United States are found in women under the age of 45," according to the CDC. So in this instance, knowledge is our friend!
And we know you know that a lump can mean breast cancer, but this time we want to spend time going over the other things that lumps may indicate—causes that may have nothing to do with breast cancer in the least bit. To get answers, I reached out to some doctors of color to see what other lumps we might come across while doing our at home checkups.
The Different Kinds Of Benign Breast Lumps
"Not all breast lumps are created equal. There can be many reasons why a woman may feel a lump in their breasts or see one on imaging, such as a mammogram or ultrasound. While we are always concerned that these may be cancerous, there can be benign reasons to have a lump. Cysts are another common cause and are fluid-filled round lesions within a 'sac' or lining. They can change in size on their own or can change with your menstruation. Lumps during your menstrual cycle in general are common as well, and are referred to as fibrocystic changes. This is one of the main reasons why it's important to regularly do self-breast exams so you are familiar with how your normal breast feels.
"Breast imaging such as mammograms, ultrasounds, or an MRI are likely to differentiate between these various lumps. In certain instances, your doctor may recommend a biopsy or fine-needle aspiration to obtain a definitive diagnosis or may discuss removal of the mass completely."
—Smita R. Ramanadham, M.D., F.A.C.S.
2. Fat Necrosis:
"Fat necrosis is benign breast lump that usually happens after trauma to the breast, surgery or injection of foreign material. In this case, the part of the fat in the breast dies and becomes calcified and hard and feels like a tumor. These are noncancerous and usually need surgery to rule out if they are painful or to differentiate from cancer."
3. Breast Abscess:
"An infection, categorized by pus in the breast tissue. Associated with pain and sometimes a fever, it's usually a complication of an infection of the skin. There's usually redness on the breast and antibiotics may fail. Your physician may feel a lump that is tender. It is easily diagnosed by ultrasound. And it's treatable."
—Lamia Kadir, MD
4. Intraductal Papilloma:
"Intraductal papilloma is a small growth within the milk ducts in a female breast. These may be associated with bloody nipple drainage and can sometimes result in a mass or lump. A blocked milk duct is another cause of a bump or mass to form in the female breast. Typically, this occurs during breastfeeding."
—Smita R. Ramanadham, M.D., F.A.C.S.
"Generally, about 20% of breast lumps are cancer. Fibroadenomas - these are the most common benign lumps. If you push on them, they are solid, round, rubbery lumps that move freely. They're usually painless. Women between 20 and 30 get them most often. They're also more common in African-American women. Fibroadenomas can be surgically removed. There are other types of non-cancerous breast conditions as well."
Every doctor presented here stressed the significance of making sure we're checking for lumps on the regular, so I want to echo their sentiments here as well. According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, the best time to examine your breasts is "7-10 days after their menstrual period starts which is also when their breasts are the least tender and lumpy."
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