Overview of common breast conditions

Last updated: November 25, 2022

Summarytoggle arrow icon

A number of conditions affect the breasts, including disorders of breast development (e.g., congenital anomalies, breast hypertrophy), fibrocystic breast changes, inflammatory conditions (e.g., mastitis, mammary ductal ectasia), benign neoplasms (e.g., fibroadenoma, phyllodes tumor), breast cancer, and breast cysts. Mastalgia is a common symptom that is often caused by an underlying benign etiology. This article provides a brief overview of common breast conditions. Each condition is detailed in the respective articles.

See also “Palpable breast mass” and “Nipple discharge.”

Benign neoplasmstoggle arrow icon

Overview of benign neoplasms of the breast
Disorder Epidemiology Clinical features Diagnostics Management
Fibroadenoma [1][2][3]
  • Solitary, well-defined, nontender, rubbery, and mobile mass
  • Typically 1–2 cm in size
  • Generally do not increase in size
Phyllodes tumor [1][4]
  • Painless, smooth, multinodular lump
  • Variable growth rate
  • Average size: 4–7 cm
  • Surgical excision
Intraductal papilloma [5]
  • No atypia: surveillance or surgical excision
  • With atypia: surgical excision to rule out concomitant malignancy [5]
Lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) [6][7][8][9]
  • No specific findings (no mass or calcifications)

Benign breast conditions most commonly affect women between the third and fifth decades of life.

Malignant neoplasmstoggle arrow icon

Overview of malignant neoplasms of the breast
Clinical features Breast imaging Biopsy
Invasive ductal carcinoma
  • Malignant cells within the lactiferous duct
  • Stromal invasion
  • Microcalcifications
  • Fibrosis in surrounding tissue
Invasive lobular carcinoma
  • Malignant cells in lobules
  • Monomorphic cells in a single file pattern
Inflammatory breast cancer
  • Dermal lymphatic invasion, angioinvasion
Paget disease of the breast

Cysts and fibrocystic changestoggle arrow icon

Overview of breast cysts and fibrocystic breast changes
Disorder Epidemiology Clinical features Diagnostics Management
Fibrocystic breast changes [1][10]
  • Most common benign breast condition
  • Premenstrual breast tenderness
  • Multiple breast nodules bilaterally
Breast cysts [1][17][18]
  • Single or multiple breast masses
  • Variable size (microcysts, gross cyst, clusters) and texture (smooth, soft, firm)
  • May be tender
  • Usually mobile
  • Frequently occurs during or after lactation
  • Most common benign breast lesion in lactating women
  • Painless, firm subareolar mass

Benign inflammatory disorderstoggle arrow icon

Overview of benign inflammatory disorders of the breast
Epidemiology Clinical features Diagnostics Management
  • Most common in nursing mothers

Breast abscess

Fat necrosis
  • Typically not needed [25][31]
Mammary duct ectasia
  • Unilateral, nonmilky gray, greenish, or bloody discharge
  • Nipple inversion
  • Firm, tender subareolar mass may be present
  • Usually not necessary [33]
  • Surgical duct excision for persistent symptoms or to rule out malignancy [32]
Mondor disease of the breast

Mastalgiatoggle arrow icon

Overview of mastalgia
Disorder Epidemiology Clinical features Diagnostics Management
Cyclical mastalgia [1][32][35]
  • Very common (esp. in women 30–50 years of age)
  • Imaging is not routinely required.
  • Identify and treat the underlying etiology.
  • Initial: nonpharmacological measures (e.g., well-fitting bra) and analgesics
  • Moderate to severe or refractory symptoms: Consider hormonal therapy (e.g., danazol, tamoxifen)
Noncyclical mastalgia [1][32][35]
  • Unilateral or bilateral breast pain, usually located over the costal cartilages
  • Sharp or burning pain and/or soreness
  • Breast imaging often indicated : See “Diagnostics” in “Mastalgia” for details.

Disorders of breast developmenttoggle arrow icon

Overview of breast development disorders
Disorder Epidemiology Clinical features Diagnostics Management
Congenital anomalies of the breast
  • Affect 1–6% of the general population [36]
  • Amastia: absence of breast tissue and nipples
  • Polymastia: presence of accessory breast tissue
  • Athelia: absence of nipples
  • Polythelia: presence of accessory nipples
  • Poland syndrome [37]
    • Unilateral aplasia/hypoplasia of the pectoralis muscles and breast with associated finger abnormalities (e.g., brachysyndactyly)
    • Most commonly develops on the right side
  • Clinical
  • Surgical correction
Breast hypertrophy [38][39][40]
  • Rare
  • Mainly clinical
Gynecomastia [41][42][43]
  • Firm, concentric subareolar mass
  • May be tender

Referencestoggle arrow icon

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