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7 Health Conditions That Can Affect Breast

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Women’s breasts are complex structures, changing naturally with age and hormone fluctuations from menstruation, breastfeeding, and menopause. Even different medications can affect how your breasts feel.


Some breast changes, though, are diagnosable conditions. Of course, you know to discuss changes that could be signs of cancer with your doctor, but there are others that aren’t cancerous now, but may put you at a higher risk for the disease later.


That said, most breast changes are nothing quite that serious. “In 80% of women who come in with a lump, it will be benign,” says Monique Swain, MD, an obstetrician and gynecologist in the breast division of Henry Ford Health System in Detroit.
Most breast conditions–whether they involve lumps or not–can be effectively treated.


Here’s a guide to the different conditions that can affect your breasts

1.Fibrosis
Fibrosis, sometimes known as having fibrocystic breasts, is one of the most common breast conditions a woman can have, even more common if you’re still in your childbearing years. It means you have extra tissue in your breasts that would normally be found in scars or ligaments, making your breasts feel ropy or lumpy.

The extra breast tissue can also feel rubbery or firm. Some women describe the feeling “as a bag of marbles–very, very lumpy,” says Dr. Swain


Fibrosis doesn’t raise your risk for breast cancer and, in most cases, doesn’t even need to be treated unless the symptoms are bothersome.

2. Adenosis


This is a benign breast condition that happens when the lobules (the milk-producing glands inside your breast) get enlarged and proliferate. Adenosis is usually found by accident, when doctors do a biopsy of cysts or fibrosis.


“You can’t tell by feeling,” says Dr. Cassell. “The only way is to see something on a mammogram or sonogram.” It can be difficult to tell adenosis and breast cancer apart on these imaging tests, however, so adenosis usually requires a biopsy to rule out cancer. If no malignancy shows up on the biopsy, adenosis doesn’t need to be treated, Dr. Cassell adds.


Some lobules also contain scar-like tissue. This condition, called sclerosing adenosis, can be painful.

3. Mastitis


Breastfeeding mothers, in particular, are susceptible to mastitis, an inflammation in the breast usually caused by an infection. The infection may be caused by a clogged milk duct or small lacerations in the breast that bacteria can enter.


In addition to swelling, your breasts may hurt, appear red, and feel warm to the touch if you have mastitis. Some women also have flu-like symptoms like fever and a headache.


Mastitis itself doesn’t increase your risk of breast cancer, but it can be confused with inflammatory breast cancer (IBC), a rare and aggressive form of the disease. If antibiotics don’t succeed in resolving mastitis, you may need a skin biopsy to make sure you don’t have a malignancy.

4. Hyperplasia


Hyperplasia is an overgrowth of extra cells in the ducts and/or milk glands in your breast. It can be called ductal hyperplasia or lobular hyperplasia depending not so much on where the cells are growing but on what they look like under the microscope. Hyperplasia isn’t cancer per se, but certain types can raise your risk for cancer.


If you have cells that look relatively normal (called “usual hyperplasia”), your risk for breast cancer is not elevated. “Atypical hyperplasia” is when the cells look abnormal under a microscope. This can raise your risk as much as fivefold.


If you have hyperplasia (usually seen on a mammogram and diagnosed with a biopsy), talk to your doctor about how to manage any increased risk of breast cancer.

5. Breast cancer


There are many different types of breast cancer–not to mention individual preferences for screening and treatment. “Breast cancer is not one disease. Each patient’s history is their history, and their disease is not what their friend has,” says Dr. Cassell.


At its core, breast cancer is an abnormal change to breast tissue that keeps reproducing. Some women may notice a lump while others may notice changes in the skin of their breast or their nipple.
Fortunately, an array of different treatments has emerged to treat breast cancer. “Treatment is very much tailored [to the individual],” says Dr. Cassell.


To help determine treatment, doctors look at factors including the size of the tumor, whether the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, whether the tumor has estrogen and progesterone receptors, and if it expresses the protein HER2/neu, which can be elevated in some cancer patients.

6. Eczema

Eczema is technically a skin condition, not a breast condition, but it can certainly affect breasts. Symptoms include dry, red, scaly skin and itchiness. The condition is chronic, meaning it never goes away. Instead, symptoms tend to reappear.


When it comes to eczema on your breasts, the most important thing is to make sure it is not a rare form of breast cancer known as Paget’s disease. This type of breast cancer and eczema “can look very similar–even to the experienced eye–and sometimes it requires biopsy of the skin and underlying tissue to determine,” says Dr. Cassell.


If it is eczema, treatment is the same as it would be on any other part of your body: smart skincare and sometimes medicated creams or ointments.

7. Shingles


If you had chickenpox when you were young and think you are safe from any related problems, you could be wrong: Shingles can be a later-in-life consequence of having had the childhood disease.
Shingles occurs when the varicella zoster virus, the virus that causes chickenpox, re-erupts in your body, causing a rash with blisters on one side of your body, sometimes including your breast. Other than a visible rash, the most common complaint is severe pain.


Newer vaccines can help prevent shingles, though they don’t eliminate the risk. If you do get shingles, you generally have to wait out the outbreak, although pain medications can help you get through it.

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