Most breast conditions are benign, noncancerous. Benign means that they cause no serious harm. However, all women are at risk for breast cancer and any changes that are not normal should be assessed. Assessment usually begins with the primary care provider, and can be further evaluated in a benign breast clinic.
Benign breast conditions include breast pain, breast infection, fibrocystic breast tissue, nipple discharge, breast cysts, and benign breast lumps/masses. In addition, abnormal mammograms that show changes but no evidence of cancer are also followed in a benign breast clinic.
Benign breast clinics are designed to assess all breast problems with a high index of suspicion and with the goal of ruling out breast cancer. Once breast cancer has been ruled out, the primary focus is on education and continued attention to breast health. Your physician will discuss the problem and why it may occur, as well as provide educational handouts to take home for future reference.
I have found that most patients are more interested in knowing it is not cancer than why the problem occurs; however, the opportunity to teach breast health is essential for early detection.
There are three ways a problem will present itself to you and your physician:
- The symptoms and/or finding may be identified by you through a breast self-examination. It is important to realize that this is still a common and invaluable way to identify breast cancer.
- A problem may present itself during a clinical breast exam by the primary healthcare provider.
- Findings may present during breast imaging.
Once the problem is identified, the clinician and/or you may want a breast health specialist to review your history, provide a skilled breast exam, and proceed with appropriate imaging if indicated. What constitutes appropriate imaging can be very complex and is usually offered in a comprehensive breast center.
Rarely is a biopsy necessary in benign disease, however, it may be needed to prove benign disease. Once a definitive diagnosis is made, teaching and follow-up care should be provided to you, the patient. A complete treatment care plan will be provided to your primary healthcare giver as well to you, so both of you will be educated and aware regarding any abnormalities.
In good health,
Anna Maria Voltura, M.D.
ABOUT DR. VOLTURA:
Anna Maria Voltura, M.D., is a Board-certified breast cancer surgeon and clinical director at Baptist Health Breast Center. Previously, she was medical director of the Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center’s Breast Institute in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She earned her medical degree from the University of New Mexico School of Medicine in Albuquerque, where she also completed her surgical residency. Dr. Voltura was a breast surgery fellow at Johns Hopkins University, specializing in the newest techniques for the diagnosis, surgical treatment and medical management of breast cancer. She is the author of breast cancer research articles published in medical journals.
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