It is recommended that women do a breast self-examination at least once a month. This helps in early detection of growths (or lumps) that may signify breast cancer as lumps are one of the early symptoms of breast cancer.
So through regular breast self-examination, there is a high chance of noticing breast lumps in time and actions can quickly be taken against breast cancer.
Apart from the self-examination, there are also symptoms, in women and sometimes in men, that signify lumps in the breast. These symptoms include pains and changes in the breast, hardness of the breast, nipple discharge, and puckering of the nipples; sometimes the lumps have a cyclical pattern, occurring with menses.
Also, breast lumps come in sizes, which could be as small as a coin or as large as a tennis ball (or even an orange).
Can One Tell If a Breast Lump is Cancerous?
Though there may be some suspect signs, without a breast biopsy examination, one cannot tell for sure if a lump is cancerous or not. Some common suspect signs include:
- fixity and hardness of the lump.
- bloody discharge from the nipple.
- dimpling and discolouration of the breast as well as ulcers.
- obvious distortion of the shape.
- Lymph node swelling in the armpit. However, these symptoms are not diagnostic.
What Are the More Common Non-cancerous Breast Lumps?
Fibroadenomas are very common non-cancerous breast lumps; they are popularly called breast mouse because of their characteristic of being very mobile and not attached to the underlying surface. Another non-cancerous lump is breast abscess. Here there may be some pus in the breast, and this could be from an infective process going on; there could also be cysts.
What Tests Can One Do to Be Sure?
Screening, by doing a mammogram, can aid early detection of suspicious changes in the breast. A breast scan can help show if there is a lump as well as the number and size of the lump. It will also show if it is cystic or solid; however, it can’t tell absolutely if it is cancerous or not.
Biopsy, on the other hand, will tell if it is cancerous or not. This involves using a special needle to take a small portion of the lump and having it viewed under a microscope for cancerous cells. An MRI is equally very useful in diagnosis but its cost is a limitation.
So back to the question that was posed at the beginning: does a breast lump always mean breast cancer? The answer is a big No!