Our Health Library information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Please be advised that this information is made available to assist our patients to learn more about their health. Our providers may not see and/or treat all topics found herein.

Breast Problems

Overview

Breast lumps or changes are a common health worry. You may have many kinds of breast lumps and other breast changes throughout your life. This may include changes that occur with menstrual periods, pregnancy, and aging. Most breast lumps and breast changes are normal.

Noncancerous breast changes

Common, noncancerous (benign) breast changes include:

If you have breast implants, there could be changes in the implant over time. Normal activity or an injury to the breast can damage the implant and cause it to leak, deflate, or rupture. The implant may harden, develop ripples, shift position, or change shape. The implant may need to be removed and replaced if any of these changes occur.

Breast changes that need follow-up

Many people with breast pain or breast lumps worry about breast cancer.

You might find a lump during a breast self-exam. Any breast symptoms can be checked by your doctor during a clinical breast exam or after a mammogram.

Early breast cancer is often seen on a mammogram before there are any symptoms. The most common symptom of breast cancer is a painless lump. But sometimes painful lumps are cancerous. Other symptoms of breast cancer include:

  • Skin changes, such as dimpling or puckering.
  • Nipple discharge.
  • Darkening of the area around the nipple.
  • A nipple being drawn inward.
  • Any breast problem that lasts more than 2 weeks.

Breast changes in puberty

Breast development is the first sign of female puberty. In most cases, breasts begin as small, tender bumps under one or both nipples that will get bigger over the next few years. It's not unusual for one breast to be larger than the other or for one side to develop before the other. You may worry that a lump under the nipple isn't normal or that it's a sign of a serious medical problem when it's really a part of normal breast development.

During the rapid hormone changes of puberty, it's common for male breasts to develop extra breast tissue. This is called gynecomastia. The extra breast tissue usually goes away without treatment within a year or two. It can feel uncomfortable. But if it causes pain or worry, talk with your doctor. There are treatments that can help.

Check Your Symptoms

Do you have a breast problem?
This includes symptoms like pain, nipple discharge, lumps, and other breast changes.
Yes
Breast problem
No
Breast problem
How old are you?
11 years or younger
11 years or younger
12 to 55 years
12 to 55 years
56 years or older
56 years or older
Are you male or female?
Male
Male
Female
Female

The medical assessment of symptoms is based on the body parts you have.

  • If you are transgender or nonbinary, choose the sex that matches the body parts (such as ovaries, testes, prostate, breasts, penis, or vagina) you now have in the area where you are having symptoms.
  • If your symptoms aren’t related to those organs, you can choose the gender you identify with.
  • If you have some organs of both sexes, you may need to go through this triage tool twice (once as "male" and once as "female"). This will make sure that the tool asks the right questions for you.
Could you be having symptoms of a heart attack?
If you're having a heart attack, there are several areas where you may feel pain or other symptoms.
Yes
Symptoms of heart attack
No
Symptoms of heart attack
Yes
Symptoms of breast infection
No
Symptoms of breast infection
Do you think you may have a fever?
Yes
Possible fever
No
Possible fever
Are there red streaks leading away from the area or pus draining from it?
Yes
Red streaks or pus
No
Red streaks or pus
Do you have diabetes or a weakened immune system?
What weakens the immune system in an adult or older child may be different than in a young child or baby.
Yes
Diabetes or immune problem
No
Diabetes or immune problem
Do you have breast pain that is not normal for you?
Many women have breast pain at a certain point in their menstrual cycle every month. This type of pain might be normal for you.
Yes
Breast pain
No
Breast pain
How bad is the pain on a scale of 0 to 10, if 0 is no pain and 10 is the worst pain you can imagine?
8 to 10: Severe pain
Severe pain
5 to 7: Moderate pain
Moderate pain
1 to 4: Mild pain
Mild pain
Does the breast pain come and go?
Yes
Recurrent breast pain
No
Recurrent breast pain
Have you had breast pain for more than 3 weeks?
Yes
Breast pain for more than 3 weeks
No
Breast pain for more than 3 weeks
Do you think that a medicine may be causing your breast problem?
Think about whether your breast problems started after you began using a new medicine or a higher dose of a medicine.
Yes
Medicine may be causing breast symptoms
No
Medicine may be causing breast symptoms
Does home treatment help with breast pain related to your menstrual cycle?
Yes
Home treatment helps menstrual breast pain
No
Home treatment helps menstrual breast pain
Have you noticed a lump or thickening in your breast or a change in the breast's size or shape?
Yes
Lump in breast or change in breast's size or shape
No
Lump in breast or change in breast's size or shape
Yes
Other breast symptoms
No
Other breast symptoms

Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind of care you may need. These include:

  • Your age. Babies and older adults tend to get sicker quicker.
  • Your overall health. If you have a condition such as diabetes, HIV, cancer, or heart disease, you may need to pay closer attention to certain symptoms and seek care sooner.
  • Medicines you take. Certain medicines, such as blood thinners (anticoagulants), medicines that suppress the immune system like steroids or chemotherapy, herbal remedies, or supplements can cause symptoms or make them worse.
  • Recent health events, such as surgery or injury. These kinds of events can cause symptoms afterwards or make them more serious.
  • Your health habits and lifestyle, such as eating and exercise habits, smoking, alcohol or drug use, sexual history, and travel.

Try Home Treatment

You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be able to take care of this problem at home.

  • Try home treatment to relieve the symptoms.
  • Call your doctor if symptoms get worse or you have any concerns (for example, if symptoms are not getting better as you would expect). You may need care sooner.

Many prescription and nonprescription medicines can cause breast problems, such as breast tenderness or nipple discharge. A few examples are:

  • Some antidepressants.
  • Some blood pressure medicines.
  • Corticosteroids, such as prednisone.
  • Medicines that contain hormones, such as birth control pills, hormone therapy, and infertility medicines.
  • Migraine headache medicines, such as sumatriptan.

Cimetidine, such as Tagamet, may cause nipple discharge and breast enlargement in men.

Symptoms of a heart attack may include:

  • Chest pain or pressure, or a strange feeling in the chest.
  • Sweating.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Pain, pressure, or a strange feeling in the back, neck, jaw, or upper belly, or in one or both shoulders or arms.
  • Lightheadedness or sudden weakness.
  • A fast or irregular heartbeat.

For men and women, the most common symptom is chest pain or pressure. But women are somewhat more likely than men to have other symptoms, like shortness of breath, nausea, and back or jaw pain.

Other breast symptoms to pay attention to can include:

  • Skin changes, such as dimpling or puckering.
  • Nipple discharge.
  • Darkening of the area around the nipple.
  • A nipple being drawn inward.
  • Any breast problem that lasts more than 2 weeks.

Symptoms of a breast infection may include:

  • Increased pain, swelling, redness, or warmth around a breast.
  • Red streaks extending from a breast.
  • Drainage of pus from a breast.
  • Fever.

Certain health conditions and medicines weaken the immune system's ability to fight off infection and illness. Some examples in adults are:

  • Diseases such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and HIV/AIDS.
  • Long-term alcohol and drug problems.
  • Steroid medicines, which may be used to treat a variety of conditions.
  • Chemotherapy and radiation therapy for cancer.
  • Other medicines used to treat autoimmune disease.
  • Medicines taken after organ transplant.
  • Not having a spleen.

Certain health conditions and medicines weaken the immune system's ability to fight off infection and illness. Some examples in children are:

  • Diseases such as diabetes, cystic fibrosis, sickle cell disease, and congenital heart disease.
  • Steroid medicines, which are used to treat a variety of conditions.
  • Medicines taken after organ transplant.
  • Chemotherapy and radiation therapy for cancer.
  • Not having a spleen.

Pain in adults and older children

  • Severe pain (8 to 10): The pain is so bad that you can't stand it for more than a few hours, can't sleep, and can't do anything else except focus on the pain.
  • Moderate pain (5 to 7): The pain is bad enough to disrupt your normal activities and your sleep, but you can tolerate it for hours or days. Moderate can also mean pain that comes and goes even if it's severe when it's there.
  • Mild pain (1 to 4): You notice the pain, but it is not bad enough to disrupt your sleep or activities.

Seek Care Today

Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The problem probably will not get better without medical care.

  • Call your doctor today to discuss the symptoms and arrange for care.
  • If you cannot reach your doctor or you don't have one, seek care today.
  • If it is evening, watch the symptoms and seek care in the morning.
  • If the symptoms get worse, seek care sooner.

Call 911 Now

Based on your answers, you need emergency care.

Call 911 or other emergency services now.

Sometimes people don't want to call 911. They may think that their symptoms aren't serious or that they can just get someone else to drive them. Or they might be concerned about the cost. But based on your answers, the safest and quickest way for you to get the care you need is to call 911 for medical transport to the hospital.

Make an Appointment

Based on your answers, the problem may not improve without medical care.

  • Make an appointment to see your doctor in the next 1 to 2 weeks.
  • If appropriate, try home treatment while you are waiting for the appointment.
  • If symptoms get worse or you have any concerns, call your doctor. You may need care sooner.

Seek Care Now

Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.

  • Call your doctor now to discuss the symptoms and arrange for care.
  • If you cannot reach your doctor or you don't have one, seek care in the next hour.
  • You do not need to call an ambulance unless:
    • You cannot travel safely either by driving yourself or by having someone else drive you.
    • You are in an area where heavy traffic or other problems may slow you down.

Self-Care

Breast self-exams are a simple way for you to learn what your breasts normally feel like. During a breast self-exam, you examine your own breasts to look and feel for changes each month. You learn how your breasts feel and what is normal for you. This can help you spot any changes early.

When to call for help during self-care

Call a doctor if any of the following occur during self-care at home:

  • Skin changes, such as dimpling or puckering.
  • Nipple discharge.
  • Darkening of the area around the nipple.
  • A nipple being drawn inward.
  • A breast lump.
  • New signs of an infection, such as redness, warmth, swelling, pus, or a fever.
  • Symptoms occur more often or are more severe.

Learn more

Preparing For Your Appointment

Related Information

Credits

Current as of: August 2, 2022

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine