If it’s not breast cancer, should you worry?

You found a lump in your breast, and your doctor recommended a biopsy to rule out cancer. Statistically speaking, chances are very good that it’s not cancer. Some 80% of breast biopsies are negative.

But sometimes what the biopsy reveals is a benign breast disease, such as a cluster of noncancerous cells growing abnormally in the breast. You may wonder what that means and whether it will put you at higher risk for breast cancer down the line.

Most of the time the answer is no. But it depends on what type of benign condition you have. Most noncancerous conditions, such as fluid-filled cysts or fibrocystic breast changes (thickened areas of breast tissue that may be hormonally driven), don’t raise breast cancer risk at all. However, other, less common benign breast conditions warrant a little more attention.

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“It’s important to discuss results of your mammogram with your doctor, even when it shows a finding that’s likely benign. Your history and other risk factors need to be taken into account, and you and your physician can decide together what the best follow-up plan is,” says Dr. Toni Golen, an obstetrician and gynecologist at Harvard-affiliated Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and editor in chief of Harvard Women’s Health Watch.

Proliferative lesions

The benign breast conditions that concern doctors most are areas of growth called proliferative lesions. “Proliferative lesions are an indicator that you are on a pathway to increased breast cancer risk,” says Dr. Graham Colditz, an epidemiologist and adjunct professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

These lesions may contain cells that grow more rapidly than normal ones, and as these cells divide and multiply, it increases the chance that they will become cancerous, says Dr. Golen.

One of the most common types of proliferative lesions is an overgrowth of cells, known as hyperplasia. It can occur in the milk ducts, which transport milk to the nipple, or in milk glands inside the breast.

Hyperplasia is divided into two categories, simple or atypical, says Dr. Golen. Simple hyperplasia is marked by abnormal growth of cells, but the cells themselves look normal under a microscope. It can raise your risk for breast cancer, but is less of a risk factor than atypical hyperplasia.

In people with atypical hyperplasia, the growing cells don’t look perfectly normal when examined under a microscope, even though they aren’t so abnormal as to be considered cancer.

There are a few other types of noncancerous proliferative findings that may increase your breast cancer risk.

  • Complex fibroadenomas. These are a small subset of the most common type of benign breast tumor, called a fibroadenoma. The vast majority of fibroadenomas don’t raise breast cancer risk, but complex fibroadenomas might elevate your risk slightly.
  • Sclerosing adenosis. This condition is marked by an enlargement of milk-producing sacs in the breast.
  • Radial scars. These growths are named for their shape, which takes the appearance of a scar. They may slightly elevate your breast cancer risk.
  • Intraductal papillomas. These small growths inside the milk ducts are most often considered harmless, but may be more of a concern if they contain abnormal cells or if there are numerous growths, typically five or more.

If you do have a benign breast condition that is known to raise your risk of breast cancer, your doctor may want you to undergo more frequent breast screenings using traditional mammography. She may also recommend  MRI or ultrasound scans of your breasts. These are typically done in addition to your mammogram.

Depending on your family history and other factors, your doctor may recommend additional preventive strategies as well. says Dr. Golen.

However, it’s important to note that just because you have one of these conditions doesn’t mean you’re going to develop breast cancer. Most women with these conditions do not.

“Even if you have atypical hyperplasia, the chance of developing breast cancer is relatively small,” says Dr. Golen.

Bible verses for today’s meditation and inspiration: Matthew E. McLaren

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NIV

The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing. Zephaniah 3:17

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Philippians 4:4 NIV

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Romans 12:12 NIV

When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy. Psalm 94:19 NIV

The Lord has done it this very day; let us rejoice today and be glad. Psalm 118:24 NIV

Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. Habakkuk 3:17-18 NIV

You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. Psalm 16:11 NIV

Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 1 Peter 1:8-9 NIV

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