What are benign breast conditions?
The term benign breast conditions (also known as benign breast diseases) describes many noncancerous disorders that can affect the breast. Your health care provider may also use the term fibrocystic change to describe a range of benign breast conditions.
Some benign breast conditions can cause discomfort or pain and need treatment. Others need no medical treatment. Many breast conditions mimic the symptoms of cancer and need tests and sometimes a biopsy for diagnosis. Though the thought of breast cancer is scary, most biopsies in the United States find a benign breast condition, not cancer.
Benign breast conditions can occur in both women and men. Learn more about male breast health.
Can benign breast conditions increase the risk of breast cancer?
Although benign breast conditions are not breast cancer, some types (especially those such as atypical hyperplasia that have abnormal looking cells) increase the risk of breast cancer. Learn more about hyperplasia and breast cancer risk.
What increases the risk of benign breast conditions?
A few factors can increase the risk of benign breast conditions, including [12-16]:
- Menopausal hormone use (postmenopausal hormone use)
- A family history of breast cancer or benign breast conditions (Women with a family history of breast cancer who have a benign breast condition appear to have an increased risk of breast cancer compared to those without a family history .)
The timing of certain lifestyle factors may be important to risk of benign breast conditions. For example, although alcohol use in adulthood does not appear to impact risk of benign breast conditions, drinking alcohol during adolescence may increase risk [18-21]. This is an active area of study.
Types of benign breast conditions
There are many benign breast conditions, including:
These conditions differ from each other in how the cells look under a microscope. For example, hyperplasia cells look different from fibroadenoma cells. If you are diagnosed with a benign breast condition (or are told you have a fibrocystic change), it is important to find out which type you have.
Learn more about detecting benign breast conditions.
Learn more about diagnosing benign breast conditions.
Hyperplasia describes an overgrowth (proliferation) of cells. It most often occurs on the inside of the lobules or ducts in the breast. There are two main types of hyperplasia—usual and atypical. Both increase the risk of breast cancer, though atypical hyperplasia does so to a greater degree .
Learn more about hyperplasia and breast cancer risk.
Cysts are fluid-filled sacs that are almost always benign. Cysts are more common in premenopausal women. After menopause, cysts occur less often . Cysts do not increase the risk of breast cancer .
Although most cysts are too small to feel, some are large enough that they may feel like lumps in the breast and may cause breast pain . In women younger than 30, cysts are diagnosed by ultrasound and for women over 30 (who are not pregnant), by a mammogram and/or an ultrasound. A biopsy is not needed for diagnosis .
Often cysts do not need treatment. However, if they are painful or if they can be felt and might interfere with a clinical breast exam, they can be drained of fluid (aspirated). Sometimes cysts come back after being drained. If this happens, your health care provider may suggest you have them removed.
At this time, we don’t know what causes cysts to develop. Some researchers have suggested dietary factors, such as caffeine, might increase the risk of cysts. However, few data support a link between cysts and either diet or lifestyle factors .
Learn more about the early detection and diagnosis of cysts.
Fibroadenomas are solid benign tumors. They are most common in younger women (between the ages of 15 and 35) . In most cases, fibroadenomas are left alone because they do not increase the risk of breast cancer. However, if a fibroadenoma is large or causes discomfort or worry, it may be removed .
Learn more about the early detection and diagnosis of fibroadenomas.
Intraductal papillomas are small growths that occur in the ducts of the breasts and can cause nipple discharge. They occur most often among women ages 30 to 50 [24-25].
Intraductal papillomas are removed with surgery, but need no further treatment . They do not increase the risk of breast cancer unless they have abnormal cells or there is ductal carcinoma in situ in the surrounding tissue [24-25].
Sclerosing adenosis is composed of small breast lumps caused by enlarged lobules . A lump may be felt and may be painful. Sclerosing adenosis may be found on a mammogram and because it has a distorted shape, it may be mistaken for breast cancer. A biopsy may be needed to confirm the diagnosis . However, sclerosing adenosis is a benign condition and does not need treatment .
Sclerosing adenosis may be found with atypical hyperplasia, lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) or ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) . Although some studies have shown sclerosing adenosis slightly increases the risk of breast cancer, recent findings suggest it does not increase risk [26-27].
Radial scars (also called complex sclerosing lesions) have a core of connective tissue fibers. Ducts and lobules grow out from this core.
Radial scars can look like breast cancer on a mammogram, but they are not cancer. They are found most often during a biopsy on a breast tumor removed for other reasons. After they are removed, they need no further treatment .
Although some studies have found that radial scars increase the risk of breast cancer, others studies suggest they do not increase risk [28-32]. These mixed findings may be because radial scars are typically found alongside other breast conditions .
Benign phyllodes tumor
Phyllodes tumors can be benign or malignant (cancerous). These tumors are rare (less than one percent of all breast tumors in women) and more than half are benign .
Benign phyllodes tumors are similar to fibroadenomas and tend to occur in women ages 30 to 50 . A lump may be felt, but is usually painless. Benign phyllodes tumors are removed with surgery. While they do not increase the risk of breast cancer, they can recur .
Malignant phyllodes tumors are more similar to sarcomas than breast cancer and are treated differently from breast cancer. For information on the treatment of phyllodes tumors, visit the National Cancer Institute's website.
Diabetic mastopathy (lymphocytic mastitis, sclerosing lymphocytic lobulitis/ductitis)
Diabetic mastopathy (also called lymphocytic mastitis and sclerosing lymphocytic lobulitis/ductitis) is a rare condition that occurs most often in premenopausal women with insulin-dependent (type 1) diabetes [25,33-34]. Small, hard masses appear in the breast as a lump or an abnormal finding on a mammogram . A biopsy may be needed to confirm the diagnosis. Diabetic mastopathy does not need treatment .
Although still under study, diabetic mastopathy may be due to an autoimmune reaction . It does not appear to increase the risk of breast cancer [24,33-34].