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Benign Breast Lumps

Last updated Oct. 28, 2019

Approved by: Krish Tangella MD, MBA, FCAP


Microscopic pathology image showing a benign fibroadenoma of breast.

What are the other Names for this Condition? (Also known as/Synonyms)

  • Benign Breast Tumors
  • Non-Cancerous Breast Lumps

What is Benign Breast Lumps? (Definition/Background Information)

Benign Breast Lumps is an overarching term used to describe any benign, non-cancerous tumors or lumps that develop in the breasts.

  • Benign Breast Lumps form, when breast cells begin to grow abnormally and at a rapid pace. While they may be painful, they are not dangerous because they cannot spread to other parts of the body
  • Many different types of Benign Breast Lumps occur in individuals. Some of these include the following:
    • Fibroadenomas: These are typically characterized as solid, rubbery, marble-sized lumps
    • Granular cell tumors: These appear in the breast as firm, easily moveable, lumps
    • Intraductal papillomas: They are small growths that occur in the breast ducts
    • Phyllodes tumors: The most rare type of breast lumps; they are similar to fibroadenomas
    • Sclerosing adenosis: Sclerosing adenosis of the breast occurs, when small lumps form due to enlarged lobules

All of these lumps have different physical characteristics, but are not a major health problem, because they are usually not cancerous.

  • While Benign Breast Lumps by themselves are not cancerous, they can increase the risk of breast cancer occurrence, later in one’s life
  • Due to the benign nature of these lumps, they do not have to be removed from the body. However, if they cause pain, discomfort, or cosmetic issues, due to large sizes, they may need to be surgically removed

Who gets Benign Breast Lumps? (Age and Sex Distribution)

  • Benign Breast Lumps most commonly occur in women ranging in age, from adolescence to late adulthood. Certain breast lump types are more common at certain ages, than the others:
    • Fibroadenomas are most common in women, in their 20s and 30s
    • Intraductal papillomas are most common in women, between the ages of 45 and 50 years
  • Breast lumps can also form in males, although it is less common. If they do form, they are characterized as hard lumps underneath the nipple and areola
  • The Benign Breast Tumors have been observed at a higher rate, in African-American women than, in any other racial or ethnic group

What are the Risk Factors for Benign Breast Lumps? (Predisposing Factors)

Common risk factors of Benign Breast Lumps include:

  • Family history of breast cancer or breast lumps
  • Hormonal therapy
  • Postmenopausal hormone supplements
  • Pregnancy
  • Breastfeeding
  • Early menstruation age

It is important to note that having a risk factor does not mean that one will get the condition. A risk factor increases ones chances of getting a condition compared to an individual without the risk factors. Some risk factors are more important than others.

Also, not having a risk factor does not mean that an individual will not get the condition. It is always important to discuss the effect of risk factors with your healthcare provider.

What are the Causes of Benign Breast Lumps? (Etiology)

  • The cause of most Benign Breast Lumps is unknown. However, they are believed to develop, as a result of reproductive hormonal abnormalities
  • It has been found that increased estrogen levels increase the risk of developing breast lumps. Estrogen levels can increase due to hormone replacement therapy, or by the use of birth control pills
  • Breast infections or various breast injuries, can also cause the formation of Benign Breast Lumps. These include breast abscess and focus of fat necrosis

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Benign Breast Lumps?

The common signs and symptoms of Benign Breast Lumps include:

  • Distinct lump in the breast
  • Breast redness
  • Breast asymmetry (one breast is larger than the other breast)
  • Pain or tenderness in the breasts
  • Nipple discharge

Signs and symptoms based on the Benign Breast Lump types are:

  • Fibroadenomas typically appear as small, rubbery lumps that are the size of a marble. They are made up of both connective and glandular tissue and move around with ease in the breast
  • Granular cell tumors are firm and movable breast lumps. They are usually larger in size than fibroadenomas
  • Intraductal papillomas are much smaller lumps made of glandular tissue, fibrous tissue, and blood vessels. These lumps grow in the breast ducts and cause discharge from the nipple
  • Phyllodes tumors are a rare kind of Benign Breast Lumps. They are typically fluid-filled and form from the connective tissue of breast. A majority of phyllodes tumors are benign, especially when they are small in size. However, when they grow to larger sizes, they can turn into cancers
  • Sclerosing adenosis occurs, when the breast lobules are enlarged and have more glands than usual. If these lobules are in close proximity to each other, they form a mass. It often has a distorted shape, which means that it is often mistaken as breast cancer

How is Benign Breast Lumps Diagnosed?

Benign Breast Lumps are usually detected first, during a physical examination. During this exam, the physician will check both the breasts for lumps and/or for other medical problems. If a lump is discovered, the physician will most likely recommend further tests, in order to determine the type of lump and to ensure that it is indeed, benign and not cancerous.

Such tests may include:

  • Mammogram (X-ray of the breast tissue) - if a fibroadenoma is present, it will appear as a smooth mass with round edges. Mammograms are usually performed, only in individuals over the age of 30 years
  • Breast ultrasound: If a fibroadenoma is present, it will appear as a solid mass instead of a fluid-filled mass. It is typically performed to characterize the breast lump, in individuals below the age of 30 years
  • Fine-needle aspiration: A thin needle is inserted into the breast lump; the needle is then used to withdraw material from the lump:
    • If fluid is removed, then the lump is most likely a cyst
    • If the tumor is solid, then the extracted cells are examined under the microscope, by a pathologist
  • Core needle biopsy: A larger needle is inserted into the lump to obtain tissue samples. This method is used to confirm that the lump is indeed a Benign Breast Lump and not breast cancer

Many clinical conditions may have similar signs and symptoms. Your healthcare provider may perform additional tests to rule out other clinical conditions to arrive at a definitive diagnosis.

What are the possible Complications of Benign Breast Lumps?

Complications are not common in individuals with Benign Breast Lumps. Even though these breast lumps are tumors, due to their benign nature, they are not cancerous. A few complications could include:

  • During pregnancy or breastfeeding, reproductive hormone levels fluctuate more than normal. This may lead to increased breast lump size
  • If breast lumps grow to be very large, they may cause the breasts to appear disproportionate, with one being larger than the other. This may also cause distortion of the breast shape
  • If they grow too large or become oversized, then they may also cause discomfort or pain. In such cases, the healthcare provider may recommend that the lump be removed

How is Benign Breast Lumps Treated?

In most cases, Benign Breast Lumps do not have to be treated, because the tumor is non-cancerous. It is not necessary to remove the tumor, unless it is exceptionally large or causes discomfort for the individual.

  • If a physician does not consider it necessary to remove the lump, they will typically ask the individual to return for follow-up appointments, to monitor its growth. At this time, they will ensure that the tumor is not growing or becoming worse
  • However, if the lump is to be removed, then a breast lumpectomy may be performed

Breast lumpectomy is a surgical procedure to remove the breast lump, which may be done under a general anesthetic. During the surgery, a small incision is made in the skin of the breast and the entire lump removed.

How can Benign Breast Lumps be Prevented?

  • The cause of most Benign Breast Lumps is unknown; hence, it is often difficult to develop any preventative measures
  • Since prevention is generally not possible, it is important to be aware of the risk factors of breast lumps. The individual must also regularly conduct breast self-exams, to ensure that any lumps are not present

What is the Prognosis of Benign Breast Lumps? (Outcomes/Resolutions)

  • Benign Breast Lumps are non-cancerous tumors. For this reason, they are not inherently harmful to the body, although they can cause some pain and discomfort
  • Since these lumps are non-cancerous, they do not have to be removed from the body, unless they are too large or cause discomfort. The treatment options for removing breast lumps, do not pose any risks and most individuals undergo a full recovery

Additional and Relevant Useful Information for Benign Breast Lumps:

The following article links will help you understand breast cancer and breast biopsy by needle aspiration procedure.


What are some Useful Resources for Additional Information?

References and Information Sources used for the Article:

Helpful Peer-Reviewed Medical Articles:

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: Jan. 8, 2014
Last updated: Oct. 28, 2019