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Understanding Breast Pain Caused by Benign Breast Conditions

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A woman's breast tissue changes throughout her lifetime. At some point, many will be diagnosed with a non-cancerous (benign) breast abnormality such as fluid-filled sacs, solid-feeling lumps, or swelling due to an infection or inflammation.

Most changes in the breast, such as lumps you can feel, are caused by these benign conditions. But because many symptoms of benign conditions are the same as those for breast cancer, contact your physician or The Rebecca Fortney Breast Center with any questions you may have.

Types of benign breast conditions

Fibrocystic Changes

Changes in hormone balances during normal monthly menstrual cycles can create symptomatic breast changes that are called fibrocystic changes. This change produces benign, tiny, fluid-filled sacs that may feel like lumps. They become more tender and enlarged the week before a menstrual period and usually subside a week later. These lumps may be hard or rubbery and can appear as a single breast lump.

Thick breast tissue

Fibrocystic changes also can appear as thickening of the breast tissue. These changes can occur in one or both breasts and most commonly occur in women aged 35 to 50 years old.

Simple Cysts

Simple cysts are benign fluid-filled sacs that usually occur in both breasts. They can be single or multiple and can vary in size. Cyst tenderness and size often fluctuate with the woman's menstrual cycle.


The most common benign tumors found in the female breast, fibroadenomas are solid, round, rubbery lumps that move freely in the breast when pushed. Formed as the result of excess lobules (milk-producing glands) and stroma (connective tissue in the breast), fibroadenomas are usually painless. They occur most often between the ages of 20 and 40 and are more common in African-American women.

Intraductal Papillomas

These small, wart-like growths are found in the lining of the mammary duct near the nipple. They usually affect women 40 to 50 years of age and can produce bleeding or other discharge from the nipple.

Traumatic Fat Necrosis

This condition occurs when the breast undergoes trauma (sudden injury) or surgery. As a result, fat forms in lumps that are usually round, firm, hard, single and painless.

Treating benign breast conditions

Fibrocystic breast changes do not require treatment. Your physician may recommend therapies that can help relieve monthly tenderness.

Nipple Discharge

A discharge (other than milk) from the nipple may frighten you, but usually is caused by a benign condition. In benign conditions, a non-milky discharge may be clear, yellow, or green. If the discharge contains blood, the cause is still probably not likely to be cancer. But it is cause for some concern and more testing.

If the discharge is coming from more than one breast duct, or from both breasts, it is usually caused by benign conditions such as fibrocystic changes. If the discharge (bloody or non-bloody) is from a single duct, it could be caused by a benign condition like intraductal papilloma. But it could also be a pre-cancerous condition like ductal carcinoma in situ, or cancer itself.

A milky discharge from both breasts (other than while pregnant or breast-feeding) sometimes can occur in response to the menstrual cycle. It can also be caused by an imbalance of hormones made by the pituitary or thyroid gland, or even by certain drugs.

Read more information about benign breast conditions from the American Cancer Society.    

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