Many women have had that heart stopping feeling of finding a lump in their breast during a self-exam. What do you do next if that happens to you?
“If you find a new lump, let your doctor know,” said Jessica Germino, MD, a specialist in breast imaging radiology at Samaritan Health Services and Corvallis Radiology. “Rather than assuming the lump is nothing, it’s important to keep your doctor informed.”
Dr. Germino reported that once you talk to your doctor, there are a number of tools that can quickly diagnose the lump depending on your age and gender.
For women under the age of 30, Dr. Germino reported that an ultrasound is usually the next step if they find a lump. An ultrasound avoids unnecessary radiation to the breast while still providing an image of the lump. In addition, younger women typically have denser breast tissue, which can be viewed more easily with ultrasound.
Women in their 30s or 40s who haven’t had a mammogram yet will likely have a mammogram. If they have dense breast tissue – which approximately half of women do – they may also need an ultrasound.
“The ultrasound helps us see through some of the density and the combination of an ultrasound and a mammogram is very thorough,” said Dr. Germino. “If both the ultrasound and mammogram are normal, women should feel reassured that the lump is likely not cancer. However, if you or your doctor are still concerned you should listen to that feeling – a suspicious lump without an abnormality on mammogram or ultrasound may still warrant a needle biopsy.”
A needle biopsy uses a thin needle to extract a small amount of tissue from the lump. The procedure can be done in the radiology department and because the needle is small, the skin won’t need stitches. The extracted tissue is sent to a lab to be analyzed for cancer.
“A biopsy gives you an answer which can be reassuring, especially if you have other risk factors for breast cancer,” said Dr. Germino.
Men & Breast Cancer
Although rare, men can and do get breast cancer.
According to Dr. Germino, many men who find a lump will need a mammogram to examine the breast tissue. Some may need an ultrasound as well.
“Sometimes men can develop a condition called gynecomastia, which feels like a lump but is actually benign breast tissue,” said Dr. Germino. “This can happen due to a number of conditions in your body or medications you take. If you start to develop breast tissue or feel a lump, talk to your doctor about it so you can determine what may be causing it.”
Know What’s Normal for You
It’s a good idea to be familiar with what is normal for your breasts. “Some women have lumpier tissue than others, which is common,” reported Dr. Germino. To examine your breasts, run your fingers firmly across the breast tissue in a serpentine pattern. Check your armpit and up by your collarbone, too. If you still have periods, hormone fluctuations can change the way the tissue feels.
“If there’s something in your breast that is concerning, it’s a fairly straightforward process to find out what it is,” said Dr. Germino. “Don’t assume it’s nothing and don’t feel like you’re wasting people’s time – just get it checked out.”
Samaritan Valley Imaging Services is an accredited breast imaging center of excellence. It offers extended hours until 8 p.m. for routine screenings like mammogram, ultrasound and image-guided breast interventions.