Benign breast conditions (also known as benign breast diseases) are noncancerous disorders that can affect the breast. There are many types of benign breast conditions. Your health care provider may 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 do not need medical treatment.
Many benign breast conditions mimic the symptoms of breast cancer and need tests (and sometimes a biopsy) for diagnosis. If you need a biopsy, try not to panic. In the U.S., most biopsies find a benign breast condition, not cancer .
Benign breast conditions can occur in both women and men. Learn more about benign breast conditions in men.
Although benign breast conditions are not breast cancer, some types (especially those with abnormal-looking cells, such as atypical hyperplasia) increase the risk of breast cancer.
Learn more about hyperplasia and breast cancer risk.
A few factors can increase the risk of benign breast conditions, including [17-19]:
Some lifestyle factors in adolescence may affect the risk of benign breast conditions in adulthood. For example, drinking alcohol during adolescence may increase the risk of benign breast conditions [20-22]. And, eating foods that contain carotenoids (like melons, carrots, sweet potatoes and squash), nuts and beans during adolescence may lower risk [23-25].
These topics are under active study.
There are many benign breast conditions. These conditions differ from each other in how their 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.
Some benign breast conditions are described below. Please note this list is not exhaustive.
Hyperplasia describes an overgrowth (proliferation) of cells. It most often occurs on the inside of the lobules or milk 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 (not cancer). They 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 with breast ultrasound. For women over 30 (who are not pregnant), cysts are diagnosed with a mammogram and/or a breast ultrasound. A biopsy is not needed for diagnosis .
Often, cysts do not need treatment. 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).
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 diet or other lifestyle factors .
Learn more about the early detection and diagnosis of cysts.
Fibroadenomas are solid benign (not cancer) tumors. They are most common in younger women (between the ages of 15 and 35) .
Most fibroadenomas do not increase the risk of breast cancer . Often, they do not need treatment. 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 milk ducts of the breasts and can cause nipple discharge. A lump may be felt and may be painful. They occur most often among women ages 35 to 55 [28-30].
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 (DCIS) in the surrounding tissue [28-29].
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. Because it has a distorted shape, it may be mistaken for breast cancer. A biopsy may be needed to rule out breast cancer . Sclerosing adenosis does not need medical treatment .
Sclerosing adenosis may be found with atypical hyperplasia, lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) or ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) . Some studies have found sclerosing adenosis slightly increases the risk of breast cancer and others have found no increase in risk [31-32].
Radial scars (also called complex sclerosing lesions) have a core of connective tissue fibers. Milk 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 .
Some studies have found radial scars increase the risk of breast cancer, while other studies have not [33-34,79]. Radial scars are typically found alongside other breast conditions, which may explain these mixed findings .
Learn more about detecting benign breast conditions.
Learn more about diagnosing benign breast conditions.
Facts for Life: Benign Breast Conditions
How has having breast cancer changed your outlook?