Breast Conditions

Potential breast conditions in young women:

A young woman may experience a number of changes in her breasts during puberty and adolescence as she becomes an adult. Some breast changes or conditions are related to her menstrual cycle, birth control pills, or other hormonal forms of contraception, while others may occur at any time. While most breast conditions are benign (noncancerous), it is important for young women to be aware of proper breast health, so that they may detect any problems. Some of the breast conditions young women may experience include the following:

  • Cyclical breast pain
    The most common type of breast pain is associated with the menstrual cycle and is nearly always hormonal. Some women begin to have pain around the time of ovulation which continues until the beginning of their menstrual period. The pain can either be barely noticeable or so severe that the woman cannot wear tight-fitting clothing or tolerate close contact of any kind. The pain may be felt in only one breast or may be felt as a radiating sensation in the under-arm region.

    It may be helpful for women to chart their breast pain to determine if the pain is cyclical or not. After a few months, the relationship between the menstrual cycle and breast pain will emerge.

    Hormones may not provide the total answer to cyclical breast pain, since pain is often more severe in one breast than in the other (hormones would tend to affect both breasts equally). Many healthcare providers believe that a combination of hormonal activity and something in the breast that responds to this activity may hold the answer. However, more research is necessary in order to draw this conclusion.

  • Cysts
    A cyst is a fluid-filled sac that develops in the breast tissue. Cysts often enlarge and become tender and painful just before the menstrual period and may seem to appear overnight. They are the most common reason for breast lumps in teenagers. Cysts are rarely malignant and may be caused by a blockage of breast glands.

    Cysts can feel either soft or hard. When close to the surface of the breast, cysts can feel like a large blister, smooth on the outside, but fluid-filled on the inside. However, when a cyst is deeply imbedded in breast tissue, it will feel like a hard lump because it is covered with tissue.

  • Fibroadenomas
    Fibroadenomas are solid, smooth, firm, benign lumps that are most commonly found in women in their late teens and early twenties. They can occur in women of any age and are the second most common benign lumps in women.

    Fibroadenomas occur twice as often in African-American women as in other women. The painless lump feels rubbery, moves around freely, and very often is found by the woman herself. They vary in size and can grow anywhere in the breast tissue.

    In some cases, with very young women, the fibroadenoma is not removed. However, since sometimes these tumors enlarge with pregnancy and breastfeeding, healthcare providers may recommend surgically removing the fibroadenoma.

Generalized breast lumpiness is known under many different names, such as "fibrocystic disease" and "fibroid breasts." Many of these are misnomers since healthcare providers and researchers now believe that these are just part of the breast changes which many women undergo throughout the various stages of their lives. Many healthcare providers feel that this term has become a catch-all phrase for general breast lumpiness.

Fibrocystic lumpiness is also described as "ropy" or "granular" and seems to become more obvious as a woman approaches middle age and the milk producing glandular tissue gives way to softer, fatty tissue. However, women with lumpy breasts may experience many other benign breast conditions.

Lumpiness in the breasts may make actual lumps harder to distinguish. Thus, it is important that women with lumpy breasts perform regular breast self-examinations and have regular physical examinations. Knowing the normal shape and feel of your own breasts is important, especially when performing examinations to detect any unusual breast changes.

Next Steps