Non-cancerous breast conditions

Know what they are

Andrea Markowitz, Ph.D.

HealthKey contributor

October 15, 2009


Most of the symptoms that women fear could be cancerous--such as lumps, cysts, tenderness, pain, swelling and nipple discharge--are actually diagnosed as benign (non-cancerous) breast conditions.

Although benign breast conditions are not life-threatening, some are associated with a higher risk of developing breast cancer. So see your doctor as soon as possible if you notice a change in or on your breast or nipple.


Fibroadenoma is a solid tumor that is usually found during a breast examination. Most often it is detected in women under 30. There may be multiple fibroadenoma in the breast. Some lumps cause pain but they are usually painless. The mass may be left in the breast, biopsied or removed.

Fibrocystic Disease

Fibrocystic disease includes a cluster of benign breast abnormalities such as cysts (benign, fluid-filled sacs). Fibrocystic disease that manifests as atypical ductal or lobular hyperplasia (fast-growing abnormal cells) may indicate an increased risk of developing breast cancer. Symptoms of fibrocystic disease include tenderness, discomfort, pain, a palpable mass or lump and nipple discharge. The tenderness or pain may be caused by hormone level fluctuations. It occurs most frequently in ages 30-40.


Cysts are a form of fibrocystic disease. They are palpable, sometimes painful fluid-filled pockets that originate from the ducts. Non-painful cysts do not require treatment. Painful cysts can be aspired by a doctor, using a fine needle. Cysts are more commonly seen in women aged 40 to 50 years of age and are the most common breast lump seen in this age group.

Breast Infection (mastitis)

Mastitis occurs mostly during the breastfeeding period. The breast tissue becomes inflamed, usually due to a bacterium or a blocked milk duct. Women experience one or more of the following symptoms: tenderness or pain, a tender lump, reddened skin, a fever, a change in the nipple, an ill-defined palpable mass, swelling and nipple discharge. This disease is treated with antibiotics. (Women who are breastfeeding should not stop.)

Fibroadenoma, fibrocystic disease, cysts and breast infection are several of the most common types of benign breast conditions. For more information about these and other benign breast conditions visit the American Cancer Society and the UCLA Health System's Revlon/UCLA Breast Center.