When It Is Not Breast Cancer

Maybe you felt a lump. Or a mammogram found a suspicious spot. While either of these scenarios can be scary, it doesn’t mean that you have cancer.

Most findings that show up on mammograms are benign—meaning they aren’t cancer.

Breast CancerThe most common benign findings are fibrocystic changes, which cause breast lumpiness. Other benign masses include breast cysts and tumors called fibroadenomas.

After a mammogram, your physician can confirm that a mass or lesion is benign with other tests, such as breast ultrasound, a breast MRI, or biopsy. With a biopsy, a sample of tissue is removed for examination.

However, some benign masses can raise the risk of breast cancer, so they may be removed with surgery. These include lobular carcinoma in situ, in which abnormal cells are found in the milk-producing areas of the breast. Another is atypical hyperplasia, in which breast cells are abnormal and increased in number.

Even though most of time it isn’t cancer, mammography is an important tool for detecting breast cancer early on, when it’s easiest to treat. But the benefits and limitations of mammography vary based on factors like age and personal risk. Experts have different recommendations for mammography. Currently, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends screening every two years for women ages 50 to 74. The American Cancer Society recommends a mammogram yearly for all women ages 45 to 54, and every other year for women ages 55 and older.

Women should talk with their doctors about their personal risk factors before making a decision about when to start getting mammograms or how often they should get them.

From infertility through pregnancy, childbirth and pediatrics, and gynecology and menopause, WCHN is a resource for family health. Learn more about our women’s services.