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Breast Problems

Breast problems are very common as breast tissue responds to hormone fluctuations, particularly to changes in prolactin and estrogen levels. Below is a list  with a common breast problems (data pooled from Ref. 3 and 7) and links for more detailed information.

List of breast problems 


breast cancer : mammography and breast self examination will often detect this early

breast cysts : can be solitary or on both breasts

breast implants : problematic for some (silicone implants)

breast infection : breast abscess common in lactating women who breast feed

breast pain : often due to fibrocystic disease

Breast self examination (BSE) : if done monthly, will complement breast cancer prevention

fibrocystic breast : painful, lumpy breasts, often premenstrually aggravated

lactating breast : normal after childbirth; in other cases can be a sign of a prolactin secreting pituitary tumor

large breasts : pendulous, large breasts often need reduction mammoplasty

lump in breast : breast lumps are common, can be benign or malignant

nipple discharge : on one breast only: suspect tumor; on both breasts: hormone dysbalance

nipple retraction : sign of advanced breast cancer

orange skin (=peau d’orange) : sign of advanced breast cancer

palpable mass : could be benign or malignant, needs urgent work-up through physician

vague breasts thickening (=breast nodularity) : common symptom, cyclical changes with hormones, no pathology found


Breast Cancer Information

This has been dealt with in a separate breast cancer chapter page.

Breast Infection

Breast infections are rare except in the period after the birth of a child. With breast feeding the baby the sucking newborn often causes skin cracks of the nipples, which can lead to nipple infections.

Skin flora and mouth flora from the newborn can subsequently enter under mother’s skin layer of the nipple and breast skin causing various tissue infections. The most common ones are skin yeast infections and breast abscesses.


Superficial yeast infections usually responds to topical antifungals. A breast abscess often will need incision and drainage by the physician followed by antibiotic therapy.

Breast Cysts

Cysts in breasts are common. They are often felt during a breast self examination. They can occur cyclically and are then usually part of fibrocystic disease. Ultrasound examination shows that they are filled with fluid, even if they may feel solid. Fine needle aspiration often stops the pain and has the advantage that a fluid sample for cell testing can be examined by a pathologist to rule out cancer. However, most of the time they are harmless (=benign).

Nipple Retraction

A retracting nipple is usually an ominous sign of invasive breast cancer. The physician should be consulted immediately.

Orange Skin (=Peau D’Orange)

Peau d’orange in French simply means “orange skin”. This can be part of the signs and symptoms of invasive breast cancer that invades the skin from underneath giving the skin of the breast an irregular surface instead of the normal smooth surface. The skin surface feels similar to that of an orange, hence the name coined originally be French physicians, but used by doctors all over the world.

Palpable Mass

To feel a breast mass in a woman’s breast is abnormal, but is one of the important signs of breast cancer.

Vague Breast Thickening (= Breast Nodularity)

This is a normal finding as a woman’s breast that is made up of 15 to 25 subunits (called “lobules”)and they have a lumpy feel about them when examined through the layer of subcutaneous fat that surrounds them. By doing breast self examinations regularly just following the menstrual period a woman will get used to this normal structure. The breasts feel most nodular just prior to the periods (premenstrually) and breast self examination should be avoided then to avoid unnecessary anxiety. The best time for breast self-examination is right after the period.



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Last modified: August 15, 2014

This outline is only a teaching aid to patients and should stimulate you to ask the right questions when seeing your doctor. However, the responsibility of treatment stays in the hands of your doctor and you.