Any breast lump should be taken seriously. Although around 90% of them are benign (non-cancerous), they should not be dismissed.
According to the Mayo Clinic, USA, you should make an appointment to see your doctor if:
- It is a new lump
- The lump seems unusual
- The lump feels different from the tissue around it
- The lump feels different from the same spot on/in the other breast
- The lump remains there after the next menstrual cycle is over
- The lump has changed; become firmer, larger, or more defined
- There is discharge from the nipple
- The skin on the affected area has changed; this may include crusting, dimpling, puckering, or reddening.
- The nipple has become inverted (turned inward), and it is not usually so
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A GP (general practitioner, primary care physician) will carry out a physical examination of the lump, and possibly order further tests, which may include:
- A mammogram - this is an X-ray of the breast. The breast is placed in a device that compresses and flattens it. There are two types:
- Screening mammogram - done on women who have no signs of breast cancer. Typically involves two X-rays of each breast. The aim is to determine whether there is a tumor which cannot be felt.
- Diagnostic mammogram - a longer diagnostic test which involves more radiation exposure than a screening mammogram because more X-rays and/or more power are involved. More power produces greater detail of specific areas of the breast that the doctor may wish to see more clearly.
- Ultrasound - this device uses ultrasound waves which bounce off tissues; the echoes are converted into a sonogram (an image) which the doctor can see on a monitor. The doctor can get an inside view of soft tissues and body cavities. May be used to check specific areas of the breast. Ultrasound is more commonly used for diagnosing women under the age of 35 years.
- Biopsy - a sample of lump tissue is removed using a fine needle, and then examined under a microscope.
- Ductogram (galactogram) - examines the milk ducts in the breast. A very thin catheter is inserted into the target duct; a contrast agent (dye) is then injected into the duct. Special mammograms are then taken. The radiologist studies the ductal pathway to determine if any blockages or filling defects are present. This diagnostic test is used if there is nipple discharge.