Dr. Kim Mulvihill ReportingEvery year more than a million American women discover a suspicious lump in their breast that turns out to be non-cancerous. But some of these benign growths may not be so harmless.
Not all benign breast diseases behave the same. New research shows you need to take a closer look under a microscope, and at a man's family history of breast cancer.
Alison Bowens-Bailey, 37 years old, knows all about lumpy breasts
Alison: "They feel like two rice bags."
Alison works at the breast health center at California Pacific Medical Center. She's never needed a biopsy. But millions of other women are less fortunate – they needed biopsies because of a suspicious lump or an abnormal mammogram.
When women get a good diagnosis – benign breast disease – it's not always the end of the story. Some of the biopsies are still worrisome. Researchers tracked about nine thousand women with benign breast disease for fifteen years. The diagnosis was based on a surgical biopsy of a lump or a suspicious finding on a mammogram.
Dr. Mary Beattie of UCSF delivers the good news, "For most women, they did not have an increased risk of breast cancer based just based on a benign breast biopsy.
The researchers found the risk of these women developing cancer later in life depended on how the breast tissue looked under a microscope, and whether or not there was a family history of breast cancer.
Dr. Beattie: "Because it looked at tissue, they were able to distinguish which fibrocystic changes had cells that were growing and cells that were not proliferating or growing fast."
Patients with benign breast disease could be divided into three groups -- low, medium, and high risk. Those at highest risk had clearly cells like some seen under the microscope, and a positive family history.
Women with this profile had a nearly four fold increased risk of developing breast cancer.
Dr. Beattie: "They should probably be monitored a little more closely
So what should women who fall into this high-risk category do? They should have yearly mammograms, and see a doctor twice a year for a clinical breast exam -- maybe once a year with their regular doctor and once a year with a breast expert.
Another thing to consider is meeting with genetic counselor to carefully review their family history.