Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
Breast lump: Although alarming when you find one, most breast lumps are not
Breast pain: Most commonly associated with fibrocystic changes, pain may
occur in both breasts, though one may be more painful than the other. With
fibrocystic changes, the pain occurs about a week before your menstrual period.
The pain usually goes away gradually with the onset of your period.
Cyclic breast pain is typically most severe before your period and gets
better during your period.
It is usually described as bilateral (in both
breasts), in the upper outer areas of your breast, and is often associated with
Women tend to describe this pain as dull, aching,
heavy, or sore, and it can radiate to your armpit or even down your arm.
The intensity of pain can vary widely with the range
of severity from mild to severe enough to limit clothing selections,
positions, or hugging.
Noncyclic breast pain
is typically unilateral (only on 1 side) with no
relationship to your menstrual cycle.
This pain may be constant or on and off and
irregular. It is described as a sharp, stabbing, burning pain that appears to be
right below the area around your nipple.
If it is localized and persistent, it may be due to
the presence of a fibroadenoma or cyst. But other more serious causes must be
Nipple discharge: May occur from an infection, or from cancer, or from very small tumors
within a part of the brain called the pituitary gland, which influences
secretions from the breast. In cases of infection, the discharge is usually
brown or greenish. The color and characteristic of nipple discharge, however,
cannot be used reliably as an indicator for, or against, the diagnosis
of cancer. Your health care professional can make this assessment.
Skin changes: In cancer
there is fibrosis (scarring) of underlying breast structures (small ligaments)
causing retraction (pulling) of the breast that can lead to dimpling of the
skin or flattened or deviated nipples. Cancer may block up the drainage
(lymphatics) of the breast, and your skin may take on the
appearance of the peel of an orange. Take these symptoms very seriously and see
your health care professional If they occur.
Mastitis: Such breast infections may cause pain, redness, and warmth of the
breast along with these symptoms:
Abscess: Sometimes a breast abscess can complicate mastitis. Harmless,
noncancerous masses such as abscesses are more often tender and frequently feel
mobile beneath the skin. The edge of the mass is usually regular and well
defined. Signs and symptoms that this more serious infection has occurred
include the following:
Tender lump in the breast that does not get smaller after breastfeeding a
newborn (If the abscess is deep in the breast, you may not be able to feel it.)
Pus draining from the nipple
Persistent fever and no improvement of symptoms within 48 to 72 hours of