What’s That Lump? Breast Cysts

Breast cysts are fluid-filled sacs that develop in the breast glands. On the surface, they’re round, soft, and have distinct edges. Single or multiple cysts may appear on one or both breasts. They’re usually non-cancerous but can cause discomfort requiring treatment. New River Women’s Health provides information about breast cysts and what you can do to proactively care for your breast health.

Though the exact cause is unknown, breast cysts are believed to be influenced by hormones. They often appear and disappear with the menstrual cycle. Breast cysts can appear at any age but are most common in women aged 35-50 years, particularly those approaching menopause. It’s also common for breast cysts to occur in women who have excess estrogen or are using hormone therapy.

Types of breast cysts

Microcysts are so small that they can only be found with medical imaging, such as a mammogram. Because they’re often symptom-free, microcysts are typically found during examinations for other concerns.

Macrocysts are large enough that you can watch out for them on your own. They’re usually 1-2 inches (2.54-5.08 cm) in diameter, which may cause discomfort as pressure is applied to the surrounding tissue. Perform regular self-examinations to find breast cysts and detect changes.

A medical diagnosis will determine if a breast cyst is simple or complex. Simple cysts are the most common and can usually be left untreated. They’re also benign and don’t increase your risk for breast cancer. Complex cysts, however, have irregularities, such as border shape or sac content. Further medical investigation is needed to ensure that the complex cyst doesn’t have any underlying causes.

Symptoms and treatment

Breast cysts can be soft or firm to the touch. Those close to the surface will be squishy, like a water balloon. They may even look like large blisters. Firm cysts, however, are usually underneath layers of tissue, so you’re merely feeling the compression they’re causing. Both firm and soft cysts will have distinct, round edges.

Other symptoms of breast cysts include:

  • Nipple discharge
  • Pain or sensitivity
  • Changes in lump size during your period

In most cases, treatment is unnecessary, and the cyst will go away on its own. However, if it’s causing you discomfort or seems irregular, consult with your medical professional.

To diagnose and treat breast cysts, your medical professional may use fine-needle aspiration. They will use a small needle to drain the fluid, after which the cyst will disappear. An ultrasound or other imaging may be required to help guide the needle. Further examination and treatment will be needed if the fluid is bloody, the lump doesn’t go away, or there is no liquid at all.

In some cases, the cyst will fill with liquid again. Your medical professional may re-drain it or prescribe medication for regulating your hormones, such as birth control. In severe cases, you can elect to have the breast cyst surgically removed.

How a breast center can help

Breast centers have resources and expertise that most general practitioners don’t provide. They can use digital mammograms to get more detailed images and determine if a complex cyst is cancerous or indicates other health concerns. Breast centers may also assess other risk factors of cancer, such as your family history.

If you have a breast cyst that persists for a few months, causes discomfort, or has extreme changes in size or firmness, consult a breast center as soon as possible.

Our team at New River Women’s Health provides expert care in the areas of gynecology. We are here for every stage of your life and health. Request an appointment online or contact us today at 540-605-7566

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