Benign Breast Diseases

Benign breast diseases constitute a heterogeneous group of lesions including developmental abnormalities, inflammatory lesions, epithelial and stromal proliferations, and neoplasms. In this review, common benign lesions are summarized and their relationship to the development of subsequent breast cancer is emphasized.

Signs and symptoms of benign breast conditions

  • pain, swelling, and/or tenderness in the breast
  • a lump that can be felt through the skin or nipple
  • skin irritation
  • redness or scaling on the nipple and/or skin of the breast
  • nipple pain or retraction (meaning part of the nipple looks like it is puckered or pulling inward)
  • discharge from the breast that is not milk (the color can range from clear to bloody to yellow, green, dark brown, or even black. Note: If you have discharge alone, even with no other symptoms, tell your doctor. Generally, yellow or greenish discharge is benign while discharge that is clear or tea-colored is more concerning. Any discharge should be checked out, though.)

Diagnosis of benign breast conditions

  • A breast physical exam and medical history: Your doctor examines the breasts, paying close attention to the area or areas where there is a lump or other unusual change. He or she also takes a complete medical history, including your current and previous symptoms, general breast health, and any risk factors for breast cancer.
  • Imaging tests: The most commonly used tests are mammography, an X-ray examination of the breast; and ultrasound, which uses high-frequency sound waves to create images of the breast tissue. Ultrasound is a good tool for telling the difference between lumps that are fluid-filled (called cysts) and those that are solid (which can indicate cancer or another benign breast condition, such as fibroadenoma). A breast MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging scan, may also be done if other imaging tests don’t provide enough information.
  • Nipple discharge analysis: If you have nipple discharge, a sample can be taken and examined under a microscope for the presence of blood or other abnormal cells. In some cases, additional tests may be needed to figure out the cause.
  • Biopsy: Biopsy involves removing a tissue sample and examining it under a microscope. Typically you would have a core needle biopsy, which removes slivers of tissue, or an excisional biopsy, which removes abnormal tissue from the area.