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Home > Patient & Family Resources > Health Library > Breast Problems
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Breast lumps or changes are a common health worry for most women. Women may have many kinds of breast lumps and other breast changes throughout their lives, including changes that occur with menstrual periods, pregnancy, and aging. Most breast lumps and breast changes are normal.
Breast development is the first sign of puberty in young girls. Usually, breasts begin as small, tender bumps under one or both nipples that will get bigger over the next few years. It is not unusual for one breast to be larger than the other or for one side to develop before the other. A girl may worry that a lump under the nipple is abnormal or a sign of a serious medical problem when it is a part of normal breast development.
Common, noncancerous (benign) breast changes include:
If a woman has breast implants, there could be changes in the implant over time. Normal activity or an injury to the breast can damage the implant, causing it to leak, deflate, or rupture. The implant may harden, develop ripples, shift position, or change shape. The implant may need to be removed and replaced if any of these changes occur.
Many women with breast pain or breast lumps worry about breast cancer.
There are two common methods of early detection:
Breast self-examination (BSE) involves checking your breasts for lumps or changes while standing and lying in different positions and while looking at your breasts in a mirror. Once you know what your breasts normally look and feel like, any new lump or change in appearance should be evaluated by a doctor. Most breast problems or changes are not caused by cancer. But BSE should not be used in place of clinical breast examination and mammography. Studies have not shown that BSE alone reduces the number of deaths from breast cancer.
Early breast cancer is often seen on a mammogram before there are any symptoms. The most common symptom of breast cancer is a painless lump. But sometimes painful lumps are cancerous. Other symptoms of breast cancer include:
In men, enlargement of male breast tissue (gynecomastia) is a noncancerous breast change. Breast buds are common in teenage boys during puberty. The buds may last up to 2 years, but they tend to go away within the first year. Breast buds develop because of rapid changes in hormone levels.
Treatment of a breast problem depends on the cause of the problem.
Check your symptoms to decide if and when you should see a doctor.
Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind of care you may need. These include:
You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be able to take care of this problem at home.
Many prescription and nonprescription medicines can cause breast problems, such as breast tenderness or nipple discharge. A few examples are:
Cimetidine, such as Tagamet, may cause nipple discharge and breast enlargement in men.
Symptoms of a heart attack may include:
For men and women, the most common symptom is chest pain or pressure. But women are somewhat more likely than men to have other symptoms, like shortness of breath, nausea, and back or jaw pain.
Other breast symptoms to pay attention to can include:
Symptoms of a breast infection may include:
Certain health conditions and medicines weaken the immune system's ability to fight off infection and illness. Some examples in adults are:
Certain health conditions and medicines weaken the immune system's ability to fight off infection and illness. Some examples in children are:
Pain in adults and older children
Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The problem probably will not get better without medical care.
Based on your answers, you need emergency care.
Call 911 or other emergency services now.
Sometimes people don't want to call 911. They may think that their symptoms aren't serious or that they can just get someone else to drive them. Or they might be concerned about the cost. But based on your answers, the safest and quickest way for you to get the care you need is to call 911 for medical transport to the hospital.
Based on your answers, the problem may not improve without medical care.
Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.
Breast self-exams are a simple way for you to learn what your breasts normally feel like. During a breast self-exam, you examine your own breasts to look and feel for changes from one month to the next. You will learn how your breasts feel and what is normal for you so that you can spot any changes early. For more information about how to do a breast self-exam, see the topic Breast Self-Examination.
If you have pain or a fever from a breast problem or injury, you can try nonprescription medicines for your symptoms.
Try a nonprescription medicine to help treat your fever or pain:
Talk to your child's doctor before switching back and forth between doses of acetaminophen and ibuprofen. When you switch between two medicines, there is a chance your child will get too much medicine.
Be sure to follow these safety tips when you use a nonprescription medicine:
Alternative medicines or supplements may help relieve breast tenderness, discomfort, or pain (mastalgia). Some studies have shown that magnesium reduces mild premenstrual symptoms. As with all alternative medicines and supplements, be sure to follow the directions on the label. Do not exceed the maximum recommended dose. If you are or could be pregnant, talk with your doctor before taking any medicine or supplement. For more information, see the topic Fibrocystic Breasts.
Call your doctor if any of the following occur during home treatment:
To prevent breast tenderness, discomfort, or pain (mastalgia), follow these tips:
To prevent nipple irritation during exercise:
To prepare for your appointment, see the topicMaking the Most of Your Appointment.
You can help your doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared to answer the following questions:
Other Works Consulted
American Cancer Society (2009). Prevention and Early Detection: American Cancer Society Guidelines for the Early Detection of Cancer. Atlanta: American Cancer Society. Available online: http://www.cancer.org/docroot/PED/content/ped_2_3X_ACS_Cancer_Detection_Guidelines_36.asp.
U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (2009). Screening for breast cancer. Available online: http://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/uspstf/uspsbrca.htm.
Current as of:
July 1, 2021
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency MedicineAdam Husney MD - Family MedicineKathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Current as of: July 1, 2021
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
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