Breast cysts are fluid filled sacs that develop in breast tissue. In the majority of cases they do not cause problems and are a benign (not cancerous) condition. They can develop in one or both breasts and it is common to have more than one cyst. It’s thought that they develop naturally as the breast changes with age, due to normal changes in hormone levels. Breast cysts can feel either soft or hard, can be any size ranging from a few millimetres to several centimetres and can develop anywhere in the breast.
Cysts are more common in women aged over 35yrs. They develop more often as women get closer to the menopause and usually stop once a woman has been through the menopause. However, women who are take hormone replacement therapy (HRT) after the menopause may also develop cysts.
Many women that have cysts are completely unaware of their existence. However, for some people cysts can feel uncomfortable and even painful. Before a period, cysts may become larger and feel sore and tender.
Some women will discover a breast cyst themselves as a noticeable lump. All breast lumps should be immediately reported to a G.P. Even if a G.P. feels a lump is a harmless cyst he is likely to refer the patient to a breast clinic for confirmation. This is usually made by a breast ultrasound scan.
Others will be found during a routine mammogram. If this is the case often the patient will be sent for an ultrasound scan immediately after the mammogram so that the patient will not be sent home worrying about an abnormal mammogram and awaiting an appointment for an ultrasound.
Most breast cysts do not require any further treatment or follow up and many just go away by themselves.
If the cyst is large or causing discomfort, a doctor can take off the fluid using a fine needle and syringe. Sometimes this is done using ultrasound to help find the cyst. The fluid drawn off from the cyst can vary in colour and range from clear to very dark. It will usually only be sent to a laboratory for testing if the fluid is blood-stained. This is not a painful procedure but the patient may feel a little tender afterwards.
Some breast cysts ‘come back’ and some patients develop new cysts. For others, the cysts disappear for good.
The golden rule is to always see your Family Doctor without delay if you become aware of any breast changes.