DON’T panic if you find a lump in your breast. Even though October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, and you may jump to the conclusion the lump is cancerous, it might not be malignant. And, even if it turns out that lump is not benign, you have a better chance today of beating breast cancer than ever before because it is curable if detected and treated early.
Professor Justus Apffelstaedt, associate professor at the University of Stellenbosch and head of the Breast Clinic at Tygerberg Hospital, suggests you ask your GP the following questions if you find a lump in your breast: Does this mean that I have cancer? No. Actually the majority of lumps seen by doctors are not cancerous. Benign lumps are common in young women; in women above age 25, cancer, while still rare as a cause of a lump, must be excluded by needle biopsy before the lump can be accepted as benign.
So what happens from here to ascertain whether the lump is benign or cancerous?
In women under age 35 a needle biopsy is sufficient to confirm the diagnosis of a benign lump. Above 35, a mammogram, ultrasound and needle biopsy are mandatory and in that order.
What questions should I ask a mammography centre to make sure that I’m comfortable that they know what they’re doing?
You should ask how many mammograms do you do every year? Will your mammogram be done by a certified mammographer? Will your mammogram be read by two readers? How many cancers do you pick up per 1 000 mammograms? Do you do needle core biopsies? Do I have to go to hospital to have a biopsy? No. You should ask for the diagnosis to be established by needle core biopsy; if necessary under imaging (mammographic or ultrasound) guidance. What kinds of benign breast conditions are there? Fibroadenomas are benign lumps in the breast. They are common in young women and often disappear spontaneously. They are sometimes (and rarely) removed because they are tender or keep on enlarging.
Does having a benign breast change mean I am at greater risk of developing cancer?
Yes and no. Most benign conditions do not signify an increased risk of breast cancer.
Only what doctors call hyperplasia (a condition in which there is an increase in the number of normal cells in a tissue or organ), especially if coupled with atypia (atypical cells, or slightly abnormal), indicates an increased risk of breast cancer.