Health Minute

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Summer 2017

Changes in a Woman’s Breast Composition Not Always a Sign of Cancer

Health Minute     Fall 2017

Women who detect a change in their breast composition may naturally jump to the conclusion that it’s a sign of cancer, but a local surgeon says women need to know it could signal a less threatening condition.

The ever-increasing awareness of breast cancer has served a positive role in helping women understand the importance of regular screening as well as contacting their physician when they suspect a change in their breasts. But the American Cancer Society (ACS) says that most breast changes are not cancer and that the majority of biopsied lumps in breasts are benign – or non-cancerous.

Seeking medical attention for any breast change is extremely important and, while it may not be cancerous, it could indicate one of several non-cancerous breast diseases. There is a long list of non-cancerous breast conditions, but the three most commonly seen conditions include cysts, fibroadenomas and hyperplasia of the breast, says Thomas Heck, MD, a breast surgeon with Gem City Surgical Breast Care Center.

“Most conditions are diagnosed based on a physical exam or picked up in imaging studies like a mammogram or ultrasound,” says Dr. Heck, who practices with Premier Health Specialists. “In some cases these conditions will require a biopsy to confirm there is no presence of cancer, and depending on those findings will determine if the non-cancerous condition places the woman at a higher risk of developing breast cancer at a later time.”

Three Common Non-Cancerous Breast Conditions

There are similarities and differences among the three most common non-cancerous breast conditions. Here’s how Dr. Heck explains it:

  • Cysts of the breast – Cysts are fluid-filled sacs that are almost always benign, but that often cause much discomfort or pain in a woman’s breast. Women who have cysts may complain of extreme pain simply by turning over in bed at night. Women can receive relief from the pain by having the cyst drained by a physician.
  • Fibroadenomas – Fibroadenomas are solid, benign tumors that most commonly appear in women 15 to 33 years of age. This condition rarely increases a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer and does not need to be removed unless they grow to a size that affects a woman’s quality of life.
  • Hyperplasia – Hyperplasia is an overgrowth of cells in a woman’s breast tissue – most commonly inside the lobules or milk ducts.  There are two different types of hyperplasia, both of which can increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer. A woman diagnosed with atypical hyperplasia increases her risk for breast cancer up to three to four times of the normal risk. 

Any woman can develop a non-cancerous breast condition, however, studies have found certain factors may increase or lower her risk. According to the Susan G. Komen Foundation, menopausal hormone therapy and a family history of breast cancer or benign breast conditions may increase a woman’s risk for developing benign breast conditions. Likewise, ongoing research suggests lifestyle factors in a female’s teen years may lower risk. This includes a diet that contains carotenoids (such as melons, carrots, sweet potatoes and squash) nuts and beans.

Dr. Heck says one of his favorite things is being able to put a woman’s mind at ease about the recent changes in her breast tissue.

“Women come in because they felt a lump or something was found on an imaging test. Rightfully, they are concerned and we are concerned,” Dr. Heck says. “For a lot of patients, however, once we evaluate them and do a biopsy, we are able to tell them it is not cancer. It is such a wonderful thing to see them walk out of the office as one of the most relieved patients in the world.”

For more information on non-cancerous breast conditions or to find a Premier Physician Network healthcare provider near you, visit