Benign Diseases of the Breast

Benign Diseases of the Breast

Many benign (non-cancerous) diseases of the breast can often mimic the signs and symptoms of breast cancer, causing a great deal of fear, uncertainty, and anxiety for women and their families. While finding a lump or experiencing breast symptoms that require further testing can be overwhelming, many of the most common breast symptoms are often the result of benign breast conditions.

Developing a comprehensive screening plan with a trusted doctor and breast care specialist, understanding individual risk levels for developing breast cancer, and staying informed are the best tools for working through fear and anxiety and taking control of your breast health.

Dr. Sadia Khan recommends making breast health awareness and regular screenings part of an overall healthcare and wellness plan for all women.
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Most Common Forms of Benign Breast Disease


One of the most common non-cancerous breast tumors in women, fibroadenomas usually develop in the teenage years and in young women under the age of 30. They are typically painless, solid in composition with a rubbery consistency, and can feel like a marble when touched. They can vary in size from too small to be detected, or can be larger and move easily when touched.

Depending on the individual, a fibroadenoma can grow in size, and many often shrink on their own without treatment. They are most common during the reproductive years, and sometimes grow during pregnancy or from use of hormone therapy. While many fibroadenomas tend to shrink on their own over time, any new lumps or changes in size to a lump in the breast should be examined by a breast specialist. In some cases, complex fibroadenomas, which may consist of abnormal cysts or calcifications, may require a biopsy as they are sometimes linked to an increased breast cancer risk.

Phyllodes Tumor

This benign breast tumor is similar to a fibroadenoma and consists of connective (stromal) and glandular (lobule and duct) breast tissue. Phyllodes tumors are most common in women in their 30s and 40s, but they can develop in women at any age. Many women do not experience pain with a phyllodes tumor, but some can be painful and stretch the skin of the breast as they grow.

Although this type of tumor can be indistinguishable from a fibroadenoma when viewed under a microscope, they differ from fibroadenomas in that some forms of the tumor can become malignant. Phyllodes are usually subdivided into three categories:

  • Benign
  • Malignant
  • Borderline (more abnormal tissue than normal)

The main distinction between a phyllodes tumor and a fibroadenoma is an overgrowth of connective tissue in a phyllodes tumor, which can appear as abnormal cells in diagnostic imaging tests. For this reason, the entire tumor is typically removed for proper evaluation. Phyllodes tumors can sometimes regrow once they have been removed. Truly malignant phyllodes tumors are generally rare, accounting for roughly 5% of all cases.

They tend to respond differently than other forms of breast cancer, and are usually treated with removal of the tumor and a small portion of surrounding healthy breast tissue, or with mastectomy. In the rare instance where a malignant phyllode tumor spreads, it tends to behave more like a soft tissue form of cancer (sarcoma) than other forms of breast cancer. While most cases turn out to be benign, regular screening and  monitoring after initial treatment is usually required in case a tumor returns.


Also known as intraductal papillomas, this is a benign wart-like growth most common in women over 40. Single papillomas usually grown in one of the milk ducts near the nipple, and cause bloody discharge from the nipple. This form is not linked to an increased risk for breast cancer.

Multiple papillomas (more than one) can also be found in the ducts further away from the nipple, and when accompanied by hyperplasia (increased number of cells), they can be linked to an increased risk for breast cancer. Multiple papillomas typically do not produce nipple discharge. Papillomas are usually removed, along with a portion of the surrounding duct tissue.

Breast Cyst

Breast cysts are usually benign, consisting of fluid filled growths inside one or both breasts. They are most common in pre-menopausal women between the ages of 35 and 50, but can occur in women of all ages. Cysts may feel lumpy and soft to the touch, although some can also be firm.

Breast cysts typically do not require treatment unless they grow larger and produce pain. The normal treatment procedure is to drain the fluid in order to relieve symptoms. In some cases benign cysts may also cause yellow or brown colored discharge from the nipples. Symptoms may also fluctuate and resolve after completion of the menstrual cycle.

Breast Abscess

Abscesses are a painful inflammation resulting from a bacterial infection, usually in women who are breastfeeding. An abscess can be very painful, consisting of a collection of pus, and sometimes fever.


Galactoceles are benign cysts located in the mammary glands. They are most common during lactation, and result from a protein blockage or “plug.” They usually resolve on their own once a woman has completed lactation, or can be treated by aspiration (removal of milky fluid through a needle).


Mastitis is a bacterial infection in the breast, most often found in women who are breastfeeding. It is often accompanied by pain, swelling, and fever, and can lead to the formation of a breast abscess. However, mastitis can also affect women who are not nursing. Mastitis is most often treated with oral antibiotics, and usually does not require that mothers discontinue breastfeeding before they are ready.

Fibrocystic Breasts

This is a benign condition where the texture of the breast tissue feels lumpy or rope-like. It is very common in many women, and usually occurs in the reproductive and pre-menopause years of ages 20 – 50. Some women may experience mild breast pain and discomfort in the breasts around the menstrual cycle, as well as green or brown nipple discharge when pressure is applied.

Find a Breast Disease Specialist

While most benign breast conditions rarely require treatment or lead to breast cancer, it is important to have any new growths or changes in the breasts evaluated by a breast specialist. If you are experiencing any new symptoms, contact Dr. Sadia Khan at (949) 764-8281 to schedule a consultation today.

Contact a Breast Cancer Specialist Today

For compassionate, professional diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer, do not hesitate to contact Dr. Sadia Khan, a fellowship-trained breast surgeon at Hoag Breast Care Center in Newport Beach. Please call 949.390.9381 to schedule a comprehensive consultation today!