A breast cyst can be found in women across ages – but more common in premenopausal women between the age of 35 and 40. In fact, women aged over 50 years rarely develop breast cysts. Moreover, breast cysts can also develop in postmenopausal women who are taking hormone therapy.
In this article, we take a closer look at the symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment of breast cysts.
What is a breast cyst?
A breast cyst is a fluid-filled, non-cancerous or benign sac inside the breast. You can have more than one breast cyst on either of your breasts. Usually described as round and lumpy with distinct edges, they feel smooth and rubber-like under the skin. Breast cysts are either painful or painless.
Moreover, breast cysts also vary in size; ranging from 2.5-5 centimeters to very small that are only visible via ultrasound scan. But if the cyst is large, it can put pressure on other tissues. This can be painful and uncomfortable. In such a case, large breast cysts are relived of fluid to ease the painful symptoms.
Now usually, breast cysts do not require any treatment. However, specific treatments are used if the cyst is large and uncomfortable.
You can have different sized breast cysts on one or both the breasts. Look for symptoms such as:
· Increase in breast tenderness and lump size before your period
· Decrease in lump size and symptom resolution after your period
· Pain or tenderness in the breast lump
· Nipple discharge (clear, yellow, dark brown, or straw-colored)
· A smooth, easy-to-move round or oval lump
Notice these symptoms? You may have breast cysts. However, this does not increase the risk of breast cancer. If anything, having breast cysts makes it difficult to find new lumps or breast changes that may need medical attention.
Be aware of how your breasts feel normally to detect the changes that may occur. Breast tissues normally feel nodular or lumpy. Visit your doctor if new breast lumps develop after your period or an existing lump changes.
The female breast contains lobes (organ extensions) of milk tissues. The lobes are divided into smaller lobules. These lobules are responsible for milk production during pregnancy and breastfeeding. However, the composition of the breast tissues can vary based on the function. For instance, breasts become fuller when the woman is breastfeeding.
Besides, the supporting tissues of the breasts contain fibrous connective tissues, blood vessels, fatty tissue, nerves, and lymph nodes. If your body experiences a hormonal change, each breast part will respond differently. This often changes the composition of your breasts.
Breast cysts usually develop when fluid accumulates inside the breast glands. However, the exact causes of breast cysts remain unclear. They commonly develop in response to normal female hormones. Excessive estrogen in the body can also affect breast tissue and cause breast cysts.
Breast cysts are usually noticeable lumps. Your doctor can confirm if the lump is a cyst or not. Then based on your symptoms and health history, you can have a breast examination. Your doctor will physically check the breast lump and look out for other abnormalities.
Your doctor may suggest a diagnostic mammogram or a breast ultrasound scan if the breast examination is insufficient. The ultrasound scan will help your doctors to properly examine the lump and determine if the breast lump is fluid-filled or solid. A fluid-filled lump is usually a breast cyst. In such a case, your doctor will directly perform a diagnostic fine-needle aspiration.
No treatment is required for fluid-filled breast cysts diagnosed by the breast ultrasounds. However, if the breast lump persists or becomes uncomfortable with time, it may need either of the treatments:
· Hormone use
· Fine-needle aspiration
Taking birth control pills can reduce the recurrence of breast cysts as they can regulate your menstrual cycles. However, birth control pills and other hormonal therapies often cause side-effects. They are usually recommended for women with severe symptoms.
As for fine-needle aspiration, your doctor will insert a thin needle into your breast lump to withdraw the liquid. When the fluid drains out completely, the breast lump is removed. And your doctor can diagnose the breast cyst immediately. However, you may have to undergo follow-up tests if the liquid appears bloody.
A cyst removal surgery is used for highly uncomfortable breast cysts. You may need surgery if the breast cyst contains blood-tinged liquid, recurs month after month, or shows other complications. But a surgery to remove the breast cysts is only required for unusual circumstances.
Nonetheless, breast cysts are nothing to worry about. Most of them usually disappear on their own. However, breast cysts can return or new cysts can develop over time. On such occasions, you should see your doctor for breast examination and treatments.