What a Breast Mass Could Mean

One in eight women receives a breast cancer diagnosis in her lifetime. Breast cancer is the second most common cancer affecting women, and proactive care is the best way to protect your health.

Breast cancer isn’t preventable, but early identification is one of the best ways to make treatment more effective. Annual mammogram screenings are recommended for women beginning around age 45, and it’s important for all women to become familiar with how their breasts normally look and feel.

Familiarizing yourself with your breasts is the best way to identify changes that could indicate a breast mass. If you identify a mass, you might be wondering what to do next. 

Rachel Alt, MD, Brian Prebil, DO, and our team at the Center for Minimally Invasive and Robotic Surgery specialize in minimally invasive surgery. Today, we’re taking a closer look at breast masses and what they could mean.

Possible causes of a breast mass

Noticing changes in the way your breasts look and feel can be scary. Many women fear they have breast cancer, but the truth is that only 10% of breast masses are cancerous. Still, it’s important to schedule a doctor’s appointment so you can get an accurate diagnosis.

Two of the most common causes of benign (noncancerous) breast masses are cysts and fibroadenomas.

Breast cyst

Breast cysts are fluid-filled sacs that grow and change in your breast, typically around your menstrual period. Also called fibrocystic breast changes, these masses feel like hard lumps.

Some women notice cysts in both breasts in the days leading up to their periods. These masses can be tender and sore but typically disappear a few days into your period. Breast cysts are most common among women between 35-50 years old.


Fibroadenomas are quite common. They’re small, round lumps that move freely within your breast if you push on them.

If you have a fibroadenoma, it might feel solid and slightly rubbery beneath your skin. Fibroadenomas are typically painless, and they most commonly affect women in their 20s and 30s.

Breast cancer

Although most breast masses aren’t indicative of cancer, it is a possibility. Cancerous masses can appear anywhere in your breast or under your armpit. These masses may come along with swelling, tenderness, unusual nipple discharge, or changes in the way your nipples look.

Diagnosing a breast mass

If you notice a mass during your breast self-exam, don’t panic. Schedule an appointment for a clinical breast exam so you can find out the cause behind the mass.

The doctor performs a physical exam of your breasts and the lymph nodes in your armpits. They look for visible cues on the skin of your breasts and nipples. Imaging tests, like a mammogram or breast MRI, could help narrow down your diagnosis.

In some cases, the doctor might recommend a minimally invasive biopsy. A biopsy is a procedure to take a small sample of cells from the mass for further testing. If the mass is small, we may remove it during the biopsy.

Surgery may be recommended, depending on your diagnosis. Large fibroadenomas can be surgically removed, and cancerous masses may be removed and followed up by chemotherapy or radiation.

Finding a breast mass can be scary, but you shouldn’t wait to seek a diagnosis. Find out more about your treatment options at the Center for Minimally Invasive and Robotic Surgery. Book an appointment online or call our Peoria, Arizona office.

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