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You Found a Breast Lump. Now What?

Whether it’s discovered during a self-exam or a trip to your doctor’s office, finding a lump in your breast can be a scary experience. The good news is most breast lumps are not cancerous. However, checking out any new or persistent lump as soon as possible is still important. 

Dr. Denise Portugal specializes in General Surgery at Dignity Health Memorial Hospital and has helped many women navigate the tumultuous time after finding an abnormality in their breast tissue. She encourages women not to ignore a new lump in their breast. 

“Even though it can be scary, we can help you. Most of the time, we have the answers to your concerns.” 

If your doctor does find something suspicious on a mammogram, ultrasound, or MRI, they will most likely order a biopsy. A breast biopsy provides a tissue sample that doctors use to identify and diagnose abnormalities in cells that make up breast lumps or unusual breast changes. The lab report from the biopsy helps determine whether a patient has breast cancer and if surgery or other treatment is needed. 

“There are several types of breast biopsy procedures,” says Dr. Portugal. “We typically start with a core needle biopsy. A small needle is placed in the abnormality, and we retrieve a section of tissue to send to a pathologist. This type of biopsy is the most common.” 

In some cases, a patient might require a surgical biopsy which requires an incision in the skin, allowing your doctor to take a larger piece of the breast tissue. Most patients are given intravenous sedation during this type of procedure to keep them from feeling pain. Although recovery time can vary, most people can resume normal activities within a few days of the procedure. 

“Every procedure has some risks, but for a breast biopsy, the risks are generally low. The most common complications are some bruising, swelling, and pain,” says Dr. Portugal. “Some people feel fine the same day while others might heal more slowly and need a few days to recover.” 

For most women, a breast lump is not cancer. Instead, it might be a more common condition like a cyst or deposits of fat or calcium. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 255,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year, and 42,000 women die from the disease. That’s why experts say quick diagnosis and treatment can make all the difference. 

“I make sure my patients know I will be with them every step of the way. Whatever the result, we will determine the best steps for each individual patient,” says Dr. Portugal. “Even if we get a cancer diagnosis, most of the time, it’s treatable. But, in those devastating cases when it’s not, I will do everything in my power to ensure my patient has as much time as possible feeling the best they can.”

Make breast health a priority. If you need help finding a general surgeon or a physician, please visit dignityhealth.org/ourdoctors.