Breast cysts are a fairly common condition. It's important to be able to recognize them, as well as understanding the difference between simple breast cysts and complex breast cysts.
A cyst is a liquid-filled lump found in the breast tissue. They're most common in people aged between 40 and 60.
Cysts usually form from the milk ducts, which are the tiny tubes used to drain the milk from the breast tissue to the nipple. A wide number of tiny cysts can form in the breasts, creating a honeycomb-like appearance.
Only one or two will usually reach a size where they can be felt with the hands. Interestingly, cysts often form quite quickly - even larger ones. On some occasions, they may cause discomfort, but this is by no means guaranteed.
A simple breast cyst is clear and filled with liquid. However, complex breast cysts usually contain some form of solid cell, such as calcium or cholesterol crystals. They may also have a thicker, irregular walls, or present some evidence of separation.
Complex breast cysts are fairly rare, only accounting for around 5 percent of all breast cysts that are screened.
There is a very, very small chance that a complex breast cyst could be an indicator of malignancy, which is why a doctor will usually ask the patient to come back after six months if one is found.
On some occasions, the doctor may ask for a biopsy to be carried out, though again it's important to emphasize that complex breasts cysts are rare, and any link between them and malignancy is even rarer.
The main cause for concern comes when complex breast cysts contain an intracystic solid mass. In these cases, the risk of malignancy can go up.
Who is susceptible to breast cysts?
As mentioned above, cysts are most common among women going through the menopause. However, they can still occur in women of other ages. They can also occur in older women currently having hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
The simple truth is that we don't know what causes cysts to form. They're not classed as a disease, as such: they're simply seen as a sign of changing hormone levels in people reaching a certain age.
With the menopause approaching, hormone levels naturally fall for women, and fatty tissue within the breast increases. It's quite natural for cysts to form as part of this process.
Because they're filled with liquid, breast cysts usually feel quite soft to the touch, a bit like a water-filled balloon or a grape. Typically, they're either a round or oval-like shape.
There are other symptoms to consider, too:
The obvious problem with cysts is that breast lumps are - quite rightly - cause for alarm, given their strong links to breast cancer.
However, it's important to state that the vast majority of lumps are NOT breast cancer. There are a number of different forms of benign breast lumps.
Cysts are one of them, as are:
It's worth noting that cysts appear in most women at some point in their lives, and are themselves not cause for alarm, as they aren't linked to cancer.
Absolutely not. You should always have any breast lump checked. Unfortunately, the problem with cysts is that they can sometimes lead to women dismissing breast lumps as nothing.
It's vital that you consult your health professional to make sure your lump isn't something more serious. When it comes to breast lumps, it's always better to be safe than to be sorry.