First thing, don't panic. There are a variety of reasons a woman could feel a lump in her breast that are not cancer. A lump could be a cyst, fibrocystic breast tissue (which I like to call lumpy bumpy breast tissue), or benign masses such as fibroadenomas.
If you are still having menstrual periods, it is recommended that you wait until your next menstrual period to see if the lump goes away on its own. Cysts and fibrocystic change can come and go throughout the menstrual cycle.
If the lump is still there after your next menstrual cycle, or you are no longer having periods, you should contact your doctor. Your doctor will confirm that there is a lump by doing an exam on you.
Most likely, your doctor will order a mammogram and ultrasound and possibly send you to a breast specialist. If you are young, then an ultrasound might be all that's needed.
A mammogram and-or ultrasound gives a better idea of why there is a lump. It can help determine if there is a cyst or a solid mass. Sometimes, we can tell some masses are benign and don't need anything more done. In other cases, the mammogram-ultrasound will show a mass that needs to be biopsied.
Even if a biopsy is needed, this doesn't necessarily mean cancer is present. Occasionally, something is seen on a mammogram or ultrasound and a biopsy isn't needed, but follow-up of the area is still advised.
Even when a mammogram and ultrasound are normal, sometimes surgery might be needed to make sure the lump is not cancerous. While mammograms and ultrasounds are very good at finding cancer, they can miss some cancers. Because of this, often it's recommended that you see a breast surgeon even if your imaging is normal.
If you are found to have a breast cancer, it can be a very scary time. Know that we've come a long way with breast cancer treatment, which has helped to save women's lives each and every day.
Rochelle Ringer, MD is a board-certified surgical oncologist specializing in breast health at Hilton Head Regional Healthcare Breast Health Center.