You or your doctor perform a routine manual breast exam — and you find a lump. You might feel a little panicked thinking about what this means and what comes next. Don’t panic. This is what comes next.
Lumps don’t necessarily mean cancer.
In fact, 90% of lumps found in breasts aren’t cancerous. It could be a hard spot that naturally forms and dissipates during your menstrual cycle, a cyst, or just tissue that has developed strangely. Remember that even if it is cancerous, benign tumors are very common. If you found the lump, it is still important to have a doctor check it out to determine its nature.
The doctor may suspect it is cancerous.
If your doctor has reason to suspect that the lump is cancerous, a mammogram and breast ultrasound will typically be the next step to get a better look at the tissue. Ultrasounds are often used to avoid the miniscule dose of radiation that comes from mammography. Technology today has advanced so far in detecting breast cancer that 3D mammography and 3D ultrasound have even become options. In some cases, an MRI may be performed.
Even more testing might occur.
If your mammogram, ultrasound, or breast MRI interpretation seem to point towards a non-benign growth but more information is needed, your doctor may want to perform a breast biopsy next. There are several types of biopsies, ranging from a quick procedure taking a tissue or fluid sample with a needle to a more involved procedure choosing an area to take a larger tissue sample. You and your doctor can determine what procedure would be most helpful and comfortable for your situation.
Your test results will determine next steps.
If your results determine that you have nothing to worry about, then, wonderful! Keep checking yourself for abnormalities and being proactive with your health. If your results report a pressing concern, such as cancer, your doctor will help you determine next steps. That may mean surgery, chemotherapy, or other treatments. Your doctor may send you to a cancer specialist to treat you and further guide you through what may be a difficult time. The good news is that breast cancer is highly treatable and usually caught so early that the vast majority of those diagnosed are treated thoroughly and go on to live long, healthy lives.
Don’t be embarrassed to want a second opinion.
No matter your results, it’s natural to seek a second, or even third, professional medical opinion. If you’re convinced something is wrong, follow your gut and work with your doctors and specialists to get the best care possible.
Remember you are not alone.
Breast cancer is common, but that doesn’t make it any easier to face. Just know that you are not facing it alone. Rely on your existing support system and recognize that you now have a secondary support system in other breast cancer survivors. You will never fight cancer alone.