October is Breast Cancer Awareness month; a time to educate, share survivors’ stories, honor victims, and shed light on the importance of early detection. One in 8 women will develop breast cancer in her lifetime, so it’s vital that women of all ages and stages of life do self breast exams and stay vigilant about any changes in their breasts. We posed a reader question about breast lumps to local breast imaging specialist Andrea Parada, M.D. at Rose Medical Center. Here’s what she had to say:
Q: “I gave birth to my first baby a few months ago and have been breastfeeding from day one without fail; however, I recently noticed a lump in one of my breasts. Is this a common occurrence during lactation or should I be concerned about the possibility of breast cancer?”
A: It is very common to notice a breast lump when one is breastfeeding or early on after cessation of breastfeeding. The most common cause for these symptoms is a “galactocele” which is a retention cyst filled with milky fluid and fat due to occlusion (blockage) of a milk duct. These masses are painless, firm, and freely movable and most resolve spontaneously in several weeks to months although ultrasound guided drainage can be performed for symptomatic relief.
Other common causes for breast lumps in breastfeeding women include simple cysts, benign masses such as a lactating adenoma, or a breast abscess which can be due to a secondarily infected galactocele. Abscesses are associated with pain and fever and require therapeutic drainage.
Pregnancy Associated Breast Cancer is defined as breast cancer diagnosed during pregnancy or within 12 months following delivery and accounts for between 0.5-3 percent of all breast cancer patients. Although not as common in the breastfeeding population as these other entities described above, breast cancer always remains on the differential of a breast lump.
A complete clinical breast examination by your primary care provider and a targeted breast ultrasound examination is recommended to characterize the palpable area. If there are any suspicious imaging findings on ultrasound examination, a mammogram and ultrasound guided core needle biopsy can be performed to obtain a definitive diagnosis.