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How to differentiate between benign and cancerous breast lumps? A gynaecologist explains

Updated on:15 December 2019, 13:22pm IST
If you’re on track with your monthly breast self-examination, then it is important to know when you should be worried about breast lumps
Ainee Nizami
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breast augmentation effects on breastfeeding
Raise all your queries with a surgeon and a lactation expert at the planning stage. Shutterstock

Giving your breasts a monthly self-examination while taking a shower once a month is a great idea. Not only does it helps in early detection and treatment of possible breast cancer, but it also makes you more aware of your body and allows you to be on instant-alert each time you spot something that feels a little off.

One rule of thumb is to watch out for any form of a lump on your breasts. However, experts believe that not all of them are alarming. So how do you differentiate between a harmless lump and one that raises a red flag? We turned to an expert for the answer.

Dr Rita Bakshi, a senior gynaecologist and IVF expert at the International Fertility Centre lists down the most-commonly known differentiators between a benign (harmless) and cancerous lump.

“Breast lumps are increasingly becoming a common sight nowadays due to several reasons like infection, trauma, cysts or even due to extra fluids during your menstrual cycle. In fact, eight out of 10 lumps detected in the breasts aren’t even cancerous,” explains Dr Bakshi.

“However, it is best to get each one checked by an expert. The cause of the lump can only be detected through an X-ray or mammography. Thus, anyone undergoing any of its symptoms needs to see a doctor immediately. Any further delays shall only aggravate the problem,” she suggests.

So when are lumps normal?
Benign (harmless) breast lumps are, more often than not, related directly to your menstrual cycle. So it’s a good idea to do a self-exam of your breasts after the end of your cycle. You are most likely to spot a cyst-like lump before your periods and it may disappear soon afterwards. This is thanks to your fluctuating hormones and extra fluid build-up in your body. However, even if it goes away, make sure you keep your doctor informed. She may want to make sure that it’s a cyst and not something else.

breast lumps
Whatever you may find through a self-examination, be sure to inform your gynae. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Some breast lumps can also be fibroadenomas, which are milk ducts and fat in breasts. and are usually harmless.

The biggest difference between a benign and cancerous breast lump is movement. So a fluid-filled lump that moves when you touch it with your fingers is less likely to be cancerous. However, this is not to say that all benign lumps move and all cancerous lumps don’t.

Another rule that seems to be the differentiator is the pain. Breast cancer lumps are not painful, while benign ones are.

So when should I be worried?
A big warning sign is when you feel the lump only in one of your breasts and see it developing into either the upper or outer quadrant of the breast, extending into the armpit. Doctors diagnose breast cancers more often in the left breast than the right.

In general, cancerous lumps also tend to be more irregular in shape. They may also feel firm or solid and are often painless. Other symptoms can include inverted nipples, coloured discharge from the nipples, a visible change in the appearance of the breasts or nipples and changes in the size of the breasts.

At the end of the day, you need to get all your breast lumps examined
While most benign lumps are treatable and may even go away on your own, let your doctor guide you through the process.

Ainee Nizami Ainee Nizami

Ainee has 10 years of experience in finding and writing stories about lifestyle, health, and fitness. When she is not surfing the internet for stories that'll connect with women, you’ll find her reading a book and sipping chai.