- Non-cancerous Breast Conditions
- What is normal breast tissue and what does it do?
- Finding non-cancerous breast conditions
- Breast cancer can be found early
- Diagnosing non-cancerous breast changes
- Nipple discharge exam (nipple smear)
- Types of non-cancerous breast conditions
- Fibrosis and simple cysts
- Lobular carcinoma in situ
- Phyllodes tumors
- Intraductal papillomas
- Granular cell tumors
- Fat necrosis and oil cysts
- Duct ectasia
- Other non-cancerous breast conditions
- How non-cancerous breast conditions affect breast cancer risk
- For women at increased breast cancer risk
- To learn more
Diagnosing non-cancerous breast changes
If your symptoms or mammogram results suggest that you may have a problem with your breast, your doctor will take more steps to find out what it is. It’s important to know exactly what the problem is so that the best treatment can be chosen, if needed.
Medical history and physical exam
The first steps are health questions (medical history) and a physical exam. Answering questions about your and your family’s past health will give your doctor information about your risk factors for breast cancer and benign breast conditions. The doctor will also ask about any symptoms you are having, including how long you have had them.
Next, the doctor will do a thorough breast exam to find any lumps and feel their texture, size, and relationship to the skin and chest muscles. Any changes in the nipples or the skin of the breasts will be noted. The lymph (limf) nodes under the armpit and above the collarbones may be felt because swelling or firmness of these lymph nodes might be a sign of spread of breast cancer. (Lymph nodes are small, bean-shaped collections of immune system cells to which breast cancers often spread first.)
Along with questions about your health and a physical exam, imaging tests and a breast biopsy may be done.
Several types of imaging tests may be used to look for or help evaluate breast diseases. Some of these include:
- Mammograms – x-rays of the breasts
- Breast ultrasound – uses sound waves to look at the inside of the breast
- MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) of the breast – uses radio waves and strong magnets to get detailed images of the inside of the breasts
- Ductogram – a very thin plastic tube is put into the opening of the duct that has discharge coming from it and small amount of contrast dye is injected to outline the shape of the duct on an x-ray
For more detailed information about these and other imaging tests, please see our document called Mammograms and Other Breast Imaging Procedures.
Last Medical Review: 01/14/2014
Last Revised: 01/14/2014