Breast lumps are masses or swellings that feel like bumps or ‘koko’ inside the breast. These lumps are parts of the breast that are different in texture or consistency. They may be harder or softer than the rest of the breast. Women’s breasts are larger and more functional and as a result, they are more likely to have breast lumps than men’s. Most breast lumps are not cancerous, however, you should contact your healthcare provider when you notice any mass or swelling in your breast.
Causes of breast lumps can be:
- Injury or trauma to the breast.
- Inflammation or infection of breast tissue commonly occurring among breastfeeding women.
- Breast cancer.
- Breast cysts, which are fluid-filled sacs that can appear within the breast.
- Hormone fluctuations that happen just before your menstrual period may cause some changes in your breast.
- Fibroadenoma, which is a solid and noncancerous tumour.
Although most breast lumps are harmless, some of them can be cancerous. It is crucial to evaluate them as soon as possible to prevent serious conditions. The following are things that should prompt you to see your healthcare provider:
- Change in the shape or colour of your breast.
- Presence of one or more hard, fixed or painless masses in your breast.
- Discharge from the nipples.
- Presence of swellings under your armpit.
- Presence of ulcers or wounds on your breast
If, along with any of the symptoms above, you also experience bone pain, breathlessness or weight loss contact your healthcare provider immediately.
The following are ways to prevent lumps in the breast:
- Ensure complete breast emptying while breastfeeding and position the infant well.
- Breastfeeding mothers should keep the nipple and area around it clean especially when there is an injury.
- Avoid smoking and alcohol intake.
- Regular breast self-examinations at home to get familiar with your breast consistency. Regular checks will help you notice growths and monitor their progress in size.
- Consider yearly breast scans if you are older than 45 or have a family history of breast cancer in your immediate relatives, e.g., mother or sisters.
- Regular breast self-examination can help you notice lumps early. It is performed in 5 steps which are:
- First, observe your breasts in front of a mirror with your shoulders straight and arms on your waist. Look out for changes in your breasts' skin, size or shape.
- Secondly, raise your arms and look for the same changes.
- You should then look at your nipples if there is any discharge. The discharge could be bloody, look watery or milky.
- Now lie down and use your right hand’s fingers to feel your left breast using a circular movement and making sure you touch all the parts of your breast and the armpits too. Do the same with your left hand’s fingers on your right breast.
- Do the same as above again while standing.
- When you notice any changes in your breast, track your menstrual cycle to see if it corresponds to your period or not.
- Do not attempt to remove or drain breast lumps yourself. Doing this may cause the spread of an infection or cancer and may lead to worse outcomes.
- You can use over the counter (OTC) drugs like paracetamol if the swelling is painful.
Some causes of breast lumps require urgent treatment, while others do not require any treatment. Your healthcare provider may offer the following treatments depending their diagnosis of the condition:
- Lumps that aren't cancer can be left in the breasts if they aren't causing any discomfort to you.
- Antibiotics and pain relievers are common medicines for infections and swelling of the breasts.
- Your healthcare provider may drain fluid from a breast cyst using specialized needles.
- Surgery may be required to remove the lump and in severe cases, the entire breast(s).
- Treatment options for cancer include chemotherapy and radiotherapy which are usually expensive.
Both men and women can have swellings in their breasts, and a breast lump is not always serious or incurable. Regular screening like breast self-examinations and breast scans for women older than 40 or those with risk factors for breast cancer can help detect lumps early. Breast cancer is entirely curable in its early stages. So it is vital to regularly check your breasts for lumps and encourage those around you to do the same.