Fibroadenoma vs Cancer
Fibroadenomas are a type of benign breast tumor that is most common in women in their 20s and 30s. The condition affects about 10% of women at some point over the course of their life. So, when comparing fibroadenoma vs. cancer, what are the similarities and differences, and is there a connection? We will get to the bottom of it.
While any kind of tumor can be frightening, the good news about fibroadenomas is that they are non-cancerous and generally harmless. In fact, sometimes doctors will not recommend removing these tumors at all, as they tend to shrink as women approach menopause. We are here to tell you everything you need to know about fibroadenomas, how to distinguish them from cancerous tumors and when to talk to a doctor about the problem.
What is a Fibroadenoma?
As we stated above, fibroadenomas are benign tumors that form on the breast. Their size can vary greatly. Some are too small to be felt at all. Others can grow to as much as 10 centimeters or more. They are hard, marble-like, and like most types of breast lumps, will move around under the skin if you try to push them. They are usually painless but can be uncomfortable depending on size and location on the breast.
The lumps are composed of several types of breast tissue. These include:
- Glandular tissue (the part of the breast that makes milk).
- Connective tissue (holds the structures of the breasts together and gives breasts their size and shape).
Fibroadenomas occur when these tissues grow over milk-producing glands called nodules, forming the small, hard lumps.
Types of Fibroadenomas
Fibroadenomas come in several different types. These include:
- Simple fibroadenomas: These are uniform in composition when examined under a microscope and remain small.
- Complex fibroadenomas: These affect older women and tend to be larger and increase in size rapidly.
- Juvenile fibroadenomas: These occur in girls aged 8 to 10 and are the most common cause of breast lumps within that group. They can grow, but more often shrink and eventually disappear on their own.
- Giant fibroadenomas: This group includes any fibroadenoma over two inches long.
- Phyllodes tumor: These are often mistaken for simple fibroadenomas, but they grow faster and occur slightly later in life – usually in the 40s.
It is not known what causes fibroadenomas, but it is hypothesized to be related to reproductive hormones. Women in their reproductive years are more likely to get these lumps, and women who are pregnant or taking hormone therapy or birth control also get fibroadenomas more frequently.
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How Are Fibroadenomas Different From Cancer?
The biggest difference between fibroadenomas vs. cancer is that cancer can form almost anywhere in the body, even if the cancer begins in the breast. But fibroadenomas only ever form in the breast and cannot travel anywhere else in the body.
Both cancer and fibroadenomas present as lumps in the breast, but they have significant differences as well. Most fibroadenomas do not grow to be particularly large in size, whereas breast cancer is characterized by uncontrolled tissue growth.
Additionally, fibroadenomas should not cause pain, nipple discharge, or skin irritation around the breast, whereas cancer can cause any or all of these symptoms.
While most fibroadenomas do not become breast cancer, and many go away on their own, certain complex fibroadenomas or phyllodes tumors can continue growing and lead to breast cancer. So, while a doctor can help you distinguish fibroadenomas and breast cancer in an appointment, the best way to determine for sure whether your lump is a fibroadenoma or cancer is to have it biopsied.
When to Talk to a Doctor
The first thing you should do when you find a lump in your breast is take a deep breath and resist the impulse to panic. While it can be scary to find a lump anywhere in the body, particularly an area where cancer commonly occurs like the breast, up to 80% of breast lumps are found to be benign after biopsy.
However, this does not mean you should not talk to a doctor about any new or growing lumps you see, especially if they are accompanied by other symptoms like pain or discharge.
If your doctor does diagnose your lump as a fibroadenoma, whether or not it will need to be removed will depend on factors like size, whether the lump is growing or changes the shape of the breast and whether it is particularly uncomfortable for you. Some fibroadenomas will resolve on their own, especially as women approach menopause.
While fibroadenomas, unlike cancer, do not generally come back after removal, women may get several fibroadenomas throughout their life.
If you or somebody you love has had fibroadenomas, it is important to make sure to continue receiving regular breast exams. While fibroadenomas in and of themselves do not increase your risk of having breast cancer, a continuously growing lump could be a sign of cancer, and with anything relating to cancer, it is better to be safe than sorry.