A cyst is a fluid-filled sac that develops in the breast tissue. Such cysts typically occur in women between the ages of 35 and 50 and are most common in those approaching menopause. They often enlarge and become tender and painful just before the menstrual period and may seem to appear overnight. Cysts are rarely malignant and may be caused by a blockage of breast glands.
Simple cysts are not cancer and do not change into cancer. However, in rare cases, cysts may have a cancer growing within them or close to them. These changes can be seen on an ultrasound, or found after a cyst is aspirated or drained. Many women have a cyst or a number of cysts without knowing it, and they do not usually require treatment. Some women first detect their cyst as a painful lump and they may decide to have it drained if it is painful or troublesome. This is done by inserting a fine needle into the cyst to draw out the fluid, and is usually a simple and fairly painless procedure.
Cysts can feel either soft or hard. When close to the surface of the breast, cysts can feel like a large blister, smooth on the outside, but fluid-filled on the inside. However, when they are deeply imbedded in breast tissue, cysts will feel like hard lumps because they are covered with tissue.
Your physician may identify a lump as a cyst by physical examination, but many physicians confirm the diagnosis by mammography or ultrasound examination. The physician may then perform a fine-needle aspiration as the next step in diagnosing the cyst. This procedure involves guiding a very fine needle into the cyst and drawing fluid from it. This procedure also serves as the treatment for this condition, as once the cyst is aspirated, it collapses and disappears. Cysts can reappear at a later date, in which case they are simply drained again. Cysts are seldom malignant.
Since cysts are benign (not cancerous), it is safe to leave them in the breast. If a cyst is large or painful, it can be easily drained using a technique called "fine needle aspiration". Fine needle aspiration takes only a few seconds and causes no more pain than having a blood test. The procedure involves inserting a very thin needle attached to a syringe into the cyst. The doctor then draws out the fluid, collapsing the cyst like a small, punctured balloon.
Lifestyle changes will help to reduce or eliminate symptoms of soreness or tenderness. Such changes include reducing the amount of fat in the diet, exercising regularly, and reducing stress.
Regular examinations by you and your physician are important, since cysts can happen anytime until menopause. All new lumps should be assessed to check whether they are fluid-filled cysts or solid lumps. Cysts sometimes refill and, if painful, can be drained.