Breast cysts are fluid-filled sacs that are found in breast tissue. They differ from most breast lumps in that they aren’t solid. They can vary in size, and they are usually not cancerous. Women with breast cysts may have only one or a few cysts,
and others may have many. Breast cysts may occur in only one breast or in both breasts. Cysts are usually round or oval, and they tend to have smooth and obvious edges – like a pea or a grape. While most cysts feel pliable, some are firm.
Most happen in women ages 35 to 50, but they can occur in women of any age.
Breast cysts aren’t always painful, but they can cause pain and discomfort. If a breast cyst isn’t causing any pain, you probably won’t need treatment. But if you are uncomfortable, your doctor may drain fluid from your cysts (or cysts)
to help ease the symptoms.
The good news is that having them doesn’t increase your chances of developing breast cancer. However, having cysts in your breast can make it harder for you to detect breast cancer if it does develop. It’s vital for you
to follow your doctor’s recommendations regarding your annual exams and mammograms and to perform monthly breast self-exams to get to know your breasts so you’ll be aware if any changes occur.
Signs and Symptoms
The signs and symptoms of breast cysts vary from person to person, but they may include:
- a lump in the breast tissue that is usually round or oval and has distinct, smooth edges
- nipple discharge that can be clear, yellow, gold, or brown
- breast pain or tenderness around the cyst(s)
- increase in the size of the cyst(s) just before the beginning of your period and a decrease in size (and any related discomfort) after your period
Simple Cyst versus Complex Cyst
There are two general types of breast cysts – simple and complex.
- Simple cysts are cysts that contain only clear fluid. These are almost always benign (non-cancerous), and they make up about 95 percent of all cysts seen on a screening mammogram.
- Complex cysts contain debris, like blood or other matter, and they should most often be evaluated by a breast biopsy.
Experts don’t know what causes cysts to form in the breasts. There is evidence that excess estrogen in the body may be a contributing factor. Breast cysts develop when fluid accumulates inside the glands in the breasts.
There are two basic classifications of breast cysts, related to their size: microcysts and macrocysts. Microcysts are too tiny to be felt, but they may be visible during imaging tests, like mammography or ultrasound. Macrocysts can be felt by touching
the affected area of the breast. They can grow as large as 1 to 2 inches in diameter. When breast cysts are large, they can put pressure on adjacent breast tissue, which can cause discomfort and pain.
When should you see a doctor?
If you feel any new breast lumps and they do not go away after your period ends, call your doctor right away. While most breast cysts are usually not cancerous, it’s always a good idea to have any lump or cyst checked out by your doctor.