Benign breast conditions (also called benign breast diseases) are noncancerous disorders of the breast. They can occur in both women and men.
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 don’t need treatment.
Many benign breast conditions mimic the signs and symptoms of breast cancer. These conditions will need follow-up tests and sometimes a biopsy for diagnosis.
If you need a biopsy, try not to panic or worry. In the U.S., most biopsy results don't show cancer . Still, a biopsy is needed to know whether or not something is cancer.
This section discusses benign breast conditions in women.
Learn about benign breast conditions in men.
Benign breast conditions are not breast cancer. However, some types (especially those with abnormal-looking cells, such as 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 [20-22]:
Some lifestyle factors during childhood and the teen years may affect the risk of benign breast conditions in adulthood.
Some factors may increase risk. For example, drinking alcohol during the teen years may increase the risk of benign breast conditions [23-25].
Other factors may decrease risk. For example, eating foods that contain carotenoids (such as melons, carrots, sweet potatoes and squash), nuts (including peanut butter) and beans during the teen years may lower risk the risk of benign breast conditions [26-27,149].
Also, girls who are heavy at age 10 may have a lower risk of benign breast conditions in young adulthood than girls who are lean at age 10 [28-29]. (Similarly, women who were heavy as children and teens may have a lower risk of breast cancer than women who were lean in their youth [30-35].)
However, being heavy during childhood and the teen years is not advised as it increases the risk of heart disease and many other health conditions in adulthood .
These topics are under active study.
Learn about lifestyle factors in childhood and the teen years that may affect breast cancer risk.
Benign breast conditions differ from each other in how the cells (and their growth patterns) look under a microscope. For example, hyperplasia looks different from a fibroadenoma.
If you are diagnosed with a benign breast condition (or are told you have a fibrocystic change), your health care provider can tell you which type you have, if it needs treatment and if it increases your risk of breast cancer.
Some benign breast conditions are described below. (There are many types of benign breast conditions. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list.)
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 2 main types of hyperplasia—usual and atypical. Both increase the risk of breast cancer, but atypical hyperplasia does so to a greater degree .
For a summary of research studies on hyperplasia and breast cancer, visit the Breast Cancer Research Studies section.
For women with atypical hyperplasia who also have a greater than 20 percent lifetime risk of invasive breast cancer, there are special breast cancer screening recommendations. (Estimate your lifetime risk or learn more about risk.)
The National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) recommends women with atypical hyperplasia who have a greater than 20 percent lifetime risk of invasive breast cancer :
This care helps ensure if breast cancer does develop, it's caught early when the chances of survival are highest.
Women with atypical hyperplasia who have a less than 20 percent lifetime risk of invasive breast cancer and women with usual hyperplasia are recommended to get the same breast cancer screening as women at average risk.
Learn more about breast cancer screening for women at higher risk.
The NCCN recommends women with atypical hyperplasia strongly consider taking a risk-lowering drug (tamoxifen or raloxifene) to lower their risk of developing breast cancer .
These drugs can lower the risk of breast cancer in women with atypical hyperplasia by 86 percent .
There are no special breast cancer risk-lowering recommendations for women with usual hyperplasia.
Learn more about tamoxifen and raloxifene.
For a summary of research studies on the use of tamoxifen and raloxifene to reduce breast cancer risk, visit the Breast Cancer Research Studies section.
Cysts are fluid-filled sacs that are almost always benign.
Cysts are more common in premenopausal women ages 35-50 . After menopause, cysts occur less often .
Cysts don't increase the risk of breast cancer .
Most cysts are too small to feel. Some, however, are large and may feel like lumps in the breast and may cause breast pain .
Cysts are diagnosed with breast ultrasound and/or a fine needle aspiration (fine needle biopsy) .
Often, cysts don’t need treatment.
If they’re painful or can be felt (and might interfere with a clinical breast exam), they can be drained (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 tumors.
They are most common in women ages 15-35 .
Most fibroadenomas don't increase the risk of breast cancer .
Often, a fibroadenoma doesn’t need treatment. However, if it’s 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.
They are usually close to the nipple and can cause nipple discharge and pain. You may feel a lump.
They occur most often in women ages 35-55 .
Intraductal papillomas are removed with surgery, but don't need any other treatment .
If you have one intraductal papilloma, it doesn't increase the risk of breast cancer unless it has abnormal cells or there is ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) in the nearby tissue [40,42-44].
Having 5 or more intraductal papillomas may increase the risk of breast cancer .
Sclerosing adenosis is made up of small breast lumps in a lobule of the breast. It may be painful and you may feel a lump.
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 doesn't need 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 [45-46].
Radial scars (also called complex sclerosing lesions) have a core of connective tissue fibers. Milk ducts and lobules grow out from this core.
Although radial scars can look like breast cancer on a mammogram, they are not cancer.
Radial scars are surgically removed, but don't need any other treatment .
Most often, radial scars are a secondary finding when a biopsy is done for other reasons.
Some studies have found radial scars increase the risk of breast cancer, and others have found no increase in risk [47-49].
Radial scars are typically found alongside other breast conditions, which may explain these mixed findings .
Phyllodes tumors are fast-growing breast lumps that begin in the connective tissue of the breast . They are usually painless .
Some phyllodes tumors develop slowly over time and some are fast-growing. Phyllodes tumors can be benign (not cancer), malignant (cancer) or borderline (of uncertain behavior).
Phyllodes tumors may be a lump that can be felt or they tumors may appear as an abnormal finding on a mammogram.
The word “phyllodes” means leaf-like. This describes how phyllodes tumor cells look under a microscope.
They are most common in women in their 40s [150-151].
Most phyllodes tumors are benign, but about 25 percent are cancer [150-151].
A phyllodes tumor may be suspected on core needle biopsy findings. However, in most cases, the diagnosis is not certain until after surgery to remove the tumor . A pathologist studies the tissue under a microscope to make the diagnosis.
For benign phyllodes tumors, surgery to remove the tumor is the only treatment needed . However, regular mammograms or other imaging tests may be needed as benign phyllodes tumors can come back (recur) .
If a benign phyllodes tumor comes back, another biopsy or surgery will be needed to confirm the diagnosis.
Malignant phyllodes tumors are rare invasive breast cancers. They account for fewer than one percent of all breast cancers .
Learn about malignant phyllodes tumors.
Benign phyllodes tumors don’t increase breast cancer risk .
Fat necrosis is a breast lump usually caused by injury, surgery to the breast (including breast reconstruction) or radiation therapy to the breast [42,152]. (In some cases, there’s no history of an injury.)
The lump is made of damaged or dead fatty tissue cells in the breast and can change into scar tissue over time.
The skin around the lump may look red, bruised or thicker than the other skin of the breast . The lump usually isn’t painful .
Fat necrosis is more common in women with larger breasts than in women with smaller breasts .
Fat necrosis may mimic signs of breast cancer on a mammogram or clinical breast exam. A biopsy may be needed to confirm the diagnosis.
In most cases, fat necrosis doesn’t need to be surgically removed or treated . It usually goes away on its own .
Fat necrosis doesn’t increase the risk of breast cancer [42,152].
Mastitis is swelling (inflammation) in the breast that may be painful. The breast may look red and feel warm. A woman may also have flu-like symptoms or a fever. It’s usually caused by an infection.
Mastitis usually occurs in women who are breastfeeding, when a milk duct becomes clogged .
Mastitis is treated with antibiotics . If there’s an abscess (a pocket of pus), the abscess will be drained with surgery or with a needle .
Mastitis doesn’t increase the risk of breast cancer .
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?