I regularly receive emails and texts from friends and readers who are concerned about breast lumps. It can be nerve racking if you or a loved one has found a breast lump!
What are my suggestions?
1. Try not to panic, if you can. Remind yourself not to let your emotions be controlled by that which you don’t know. You found something that may or may not be of concern. You’ll need more information before you know if this is something that warrants a lot of your emotional energy.
2. Take some comfort in the statistics. Only a small number of breast lumps turn out to be cancerous. In fact, if you’re in your early 20s-50s, there’s at least a 90% chance that the lump is non-cancerous (benign). For those of you in your mid-50s or older, 80% of lumps are benign. In the overwhelming majority of cases, breast lumps are found to be fibrocystic and normal.
3. Wait until after your next period to see if you can still feel the lump. Women’s breasts and breast tissue change throughout their cycle. If you’re unsure about how to perform a breast self-exam, this video from Georgetown University Hospital is informative.
4. If you still feel the lump after your next period, then schedule an appointment for a clinical breast exam. A clinical breast exam is a more thorough breast exam performed by a medical professional. Your primary care physician or gynecologist can perform a clinical breast exam, but you also can make an appointment with a breast surgeon. Men can see their internist or general practitioner to examine a new mass on their chest, and then get a referral, if needed. For those of you without insurance, all Planned Parenthood centers offer clinical breast exams. In the DC area, you can also go to Capital Breast Care Center by the Eastern Market Metro.
Following the clinical breast exam, the health care professional will decide how best to proceed. Options include:
- Waiting six months to follow up with another clinical breast exam. That’s a common reaction to lumps found in younger women. I appreciate the statistics, but you also have the right to ask for a follow up in three months.
- Ordering a sonogram (ultrasound) and/or a mammogram. I had my first benign breast lump removed at the age of 26. Over the next three years, I had three more lumps biopsied and/or removed. All of the information that my doctors needed was obtained from sonograms and biopsies. Medical professionals typically don’t order mammograms for women under the age of 35 since younger breasts have denser tissue that lead to false positives. Sonograms provide a better reading than mammograms for denser breasts. If you’re under the age of 35, ask your doctor whether a mammogram is right for you.
- Ordering a breast biopsy, if the above methods didn’t yield a conclusive result. Breast biopsies are done on an outpatient basis and do not require you to be under anesthesia. For more information about the different types of breast biopsies, check out this link from Mayo Clinic. If you require a biopsy, try not to jump to the worst possible conclusion. According to the University of Michigan, only 15% of biopsies performed turned out to be cancerous.
5. Reach out for support. Chances are that a female friend or relative has gone through this process before. Ask them for their advice.
6. Use online resources in a restrained manner. You can look online for information, but stick to reliable sites from medical institutions and cap how much time a day you spend searching about lumps and biopsies. Don’t let information overload increase your anxiety!
I’m not a doctor, but I do care. Since I was diagnosed, I’ve let it be known that I’m happy to serve as a resource for those with questions. Feel free to reach out anytime via citygirlblogs (at) gmail. And, please, regardless of gender identity, stay on top of your breast health! xoxo