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Breast Disorders

What are Breast Disorders?

Breast disorders can be defined as medical conditions or problems concerning the breasts that can negatively affect their structure or functioning.

Breast disorders can develop in both men and women, although female breast disorders are more common. It can be either benign in nature (noncancerous and does not spread to other parts of the body) or malignant in nature (cancerous and can spread to other parts of the body).

Types of Breast Disorders

There are several types of breast disorders that can cause lumps, cysts, and infection, with or without pain. Some of the types of breast disorders include:

  • Breast pain: Breast pain, also referred to as mastalgia, mastodynia, and mammalgia, is any discomfort, tenderness, or pain in the breast or underarm region. The pain may range from mild to severe and can affect women of any age, but is most common in perimenopausal and premenopausal women.
  • Breast lump: A breast lump is a mass or growth of tissue that develops within the breast. It could occur as a bulge, protuberance, bump, or a localised swelling in the breast that feels and looks different from the surrounding breast tissue. Most often the breast lumps are benign (noncancerous); however, it is important to see your doctor for a medical evaluation as they can also be a sign of cancer. Some of the common types of breast lumps include fibroadenomas, fat necrosis, cysts, and phyllodes tumour.
  • Nipple discharge: Nipple discharge is defined as any fluid or liquid that comes out of the nipple of the breast either spontaneously or on squeezing of the breasts or nipples. It is a normal function of the breast that occurs during pregnancy and breast-feeding. However, nipple discharge can also occur as a result of abnormality in the breast and is the third most common reason women visit a doctor for their breast-related conditions after breast pain and lump. The nipple discharge may be milky, clear, bloody, yellow, or brown in appearance and may vary in consistency from thin and watery to thick and sticky.
  • Breast cancer: Breast cancer is defined as a cancer that forms in the cells of the breasts. It occurs from an abnormal division and multiplication of breast cells in an uncontrolled manner. Breast cancer can develop in both women and men, but it is much more common in women. Mostly, the cancer develops either in the ducts or lobules of the breasts, but can also develop in the fibrous connective tissue or fatty tissue within the breast. Some of the common types of breast cancer include metastatic breast cancer, ductal carcinoma in situ, and invasive ductal carcinoma.
  • Breast and nipple infection: Breast and nipple infections occur as a result of infection in the tissue of the breast or nipple. The infection is caused by the action of bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus that enters via a crack or opening in the skin, normally the nipple. The infection results in pain, swelling, warmth, and redness in the breasts and nipples. Mastitis and duct ectasia are the most common forms of breast and nipple infection.
  • Gynecomastia: This is a medical condition in which boys' and men's breasts expand and become abnormally large in size. It can affect one or both breasts and is commonly noted in teenage boys and older men. It occurs as a result of an imbalance in the hormones, such as testosterone and estrogen, causing an increase in the volume of breast glandular tissue or by an underlying medical condition.

Causes of Breast Disorders

Some of the causes of breast disorders include:

  • Infection
  • Hormonal disorders or imbalance
  • Trauma or injury to the breasts
  • Side effects of medications
  • Excessive stimulation of the nipples
  • Family history of breast disorders
  • Previous history of breast conditions
  • Inheritance of mutations in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes
  • Exposure to radiation
  • Advanced age
  • A higher degree of exposure to estrogen in lifetime

Signs and Symptoms of Breast Disorders

Some of the signs and symptoms of breast disorders include:

  • Rashes or red swollen breasts
  • Rash encircling the nipple
  • Thickening or lumps in the underarm or breasts
  • Dimpling of the breast tissue
  • Sores in the nipple
  • Nipple discharge or inward turning
  • Difference in the size or shape of the breast
  • Scaling, flaking, or peeling of skin on the breast or nipple
  • Pain in the breasts or armpits not related to menstruation.

Diagnosis of Breast Disorders

In order to diagnose the cause of breast disorder, your doctor will perform the following:

  • Review of your medical history
  • A clinical breast examination to check for any lumps, nipple discharge, or changes in the appearance of the nipple
  • Examination of the lymph nodes in the armpit or lower neck to check for any swelling or tenderness to touch

If a breast lump or unusual pain or thickening of breast tissue is noted, your doctor may order further diagnostic tests, such as:

  • Mammogram – an X-ray examination of the breast
  • Breast biopsy – surgical removal of a sample of breast tissue or cells and fluid from a suspicious area for microscopic analysis
  • Ultrasound scan – use of high-frequency sound waves to create pictures of breast tissue to look for any abnormalities
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – use of radio wave and strong magnetic field to produce detailed images of breast tissue to detect cancerous lesions

These diagnostic steps help in confirming the root cause of breast disorder and determine the best course of therapy.

Treatment of Breast Disorders

The treatment depends upon whether the breast disorder is non-malignant or malignant in nature and may involve the following:

  • Change in medications causing breast disorder
  • Applying creams around the nipple to treat abnormal skin changes
  • Use of medications to treat a medical condition
  • Use of warm compresses and antibiotics
  • Removal of some or all of the breast ducts
  • Mastectomy – surgical removal of all breast tissue from a breast
  • Lumpectomy – surgical removal of a lump or abnormal tissue from a breast
  • Chemotherapy – use of drugs to target and destroy breast cancer cells
  • Radiation – use of high-energy radioactive rays to destroy cancer cells
  • Liposuction – a procedure for removal of breast fat

What are the Risk Factors Associated with Breast Disorder?

Some of the risk factors associated with breast disorder include:

  • Genetic factors
  • Advanced age
  • Female gender
  • Excessive alcohol consumption and smoking
  • Early menstruation and late menopause
  • Family or personal history of breast disorder
  • Obesity and lack of exercise
  • Infertility or late pregnancy
  • Hormone replacement therapy
  • Poor diet