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Patient Education

Detecting and Treating Breast Problems

A woman's breasts are always changing. They change during the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, breastfeeding and menopause (when menstrual periods end). Along with these normal changes, problems can arise. Most of the problems are minor, but a few can be serious. One major problem, breast cancer, is a leading cause of cancer deaths in women.

Your Breasts

Your breasts are made up of glands, fat and fibrous (thickened) tissue. They respond to changes in levels of the hormones estrogen and progesterone during your menstrual cycle.

Your breasts also change during pregnancy, breastfeeding and menopause.

Breast Problems in Women

Most breast problems produce only minor symptoms. Because all women are at risk for breast cancer, you should be aware of how your breasts feel. Regular breast self-exams can help. Tell your doctor if you notice any changes.

Most breast problems, especially in younger women, are benign (not cancer). Common symptoms include:

  • Lumps (which may be felt in one exact place or throughout the breast)
  • Discharge from the nipple
  • Tender areas

Screening for Breast Problems

Screening tests are used to find a health problem early. Three of the common tests for breast problems include:

1. Mammography
2. Doctor's exam of the breasts
3. Breast self-exam

Tests

If you have found a lump in your breast or the results of your mammogram are not complete, other tests may be used to help diagnose breast problems.

Finally...

Most breast problems are benign, but breast cancer can occur. Check your breasts every month. Follow your doctor's advice about routine mammography. Breast problems can be treated with success if they are found early.

This excerpt from ACOG's Patient Education Pamphlet is provided for your information. It is not medical advice and should not be relied upon as a substitute for visiting your doctor. If you need medical care, have any questions, or wish to receive the full text of this Patient Education Pamphlet, please contact your obstetrician-gynecologist.