Breast Conditions | Pain and Infections | MedStar Health

The breast specialists at MedStar Health treat both benign (non-cancerous) breast diseases and breast cancer. Our comprehensive care approach is designed for women on the road toward overcoming breast disease.

What you can do to protect your breast health

You can help increase the chance of early detection by the following these steps:

  1. Perform regular monthly breast self-examination.

  2. See your doctor once a year for a clinical breast exam.

  3. Schedule an annual digital mammogram, as appropriate based on age and family history.

These three steps are the keys to maintaining breast health. However, there are times when a woman or her doctor may find a lump in her breast during an exam, or a suspicious area may be seen on a digital mammogram. Findings such as this do not always signal the presence of breast cancer; however, it is critical to your health that you have it checked immediately in order to determine if the lump is dangerous or benign.

The specialists at MedStar Health treat the following

Breast pain is a very common affliction experienced by 70% of women at some time in their life. Breast pain is not commonly a breast cancer symptom, but it is something you should take seriously. If your breast pain lasts for two weeks or more, occurs during a time unrelated to your menstrual cycle, or becomes increasingly worse, contact your doctor. You can experience breast pain for a variety of reasons unrelated to breast cancer, including:

  • Hormonal changes such as menstruation, menopause, pregnancy, and puberty
  • Breasts become full with milk following childbirth
  • Breastfeeding
  • Breast infection
  • Trauma or injury to the breast or underlying chest area
  • Large breast size
  • Fibrocystic breast changes
  • Stress

In addition, certain medications, including those that contain hormones as well as some antidepressants, can cause breast pain.

Mastitis is an infection of the breast tissue that occurs most frequently in women who are breastfeeding. It can occur when bacteria, often from the baby's mouth, enter a milk duct via a crack in the nipple.

Although breast infections occur most often in breastfeeding women, it is an affliction that can affect all women. Non-lactational mastitis usually occurs in women with weakened immune systems. This includes women who have had lumpectomies with radiation therapy and women with diabetes.

Symptoms of breast infections include:

  • Red, swollen, or hot breast tissue
  • Swollen or painful lymph nodes under the arm
  • One breast becomes larger than the other
  • Flu-like symptoms including fever, nausea, or vomiting
  • Itching or pain in your breast
  • Painful lump in the breast


If you are nursing, your doctor will likely recommend treating your infection with moist heat and antibiotics. You should continue to nurse and/or pump milk even while treating your breast infection.

If you are not pregnant, your doctor will likely search for the cause of your infection with a digital mammogram and/or minimally invasive breast biopsy, and antibiotics may be prescribed.

Fibroadenomas are the most common breast lumps found in women younger than 30 years old. They feel firm and mobile, but typically do not cause pain; they are not cancerous.


One of our breast care experts will perform a clinical breast exam to manually check your breasts for fibroadenomas. To confirm a diagnosis, your doctor may also use a digital mammogram and breast ultrasound to better understand the appearance of the inside of your breast. A minimally invasive breast biopsy may be used to examine some tissue from your breast under a microscope.


If your fibroadenoma continues to grow or is of a certain size, your doctor may recommend removing it to make sure it is does not contain abnormal cells. Fibroadenomas rarely become breast cancer but they can sometimes degenerate into a different type of tumor: a phyllodes tumor. If the fibroadenoma starts to grow rapidly or the biopsy is suggestive of phyllodes tumor, then we will recommend removing it completely.

The term “fibrocystic breast changes” describes breast tissue that is very dense and/or lumpy. This is a very common, non-cancerous condition, and it is most common in women in their 40s. If you have fibrocystic changes, you may experience:

  • Pain and sensitivity in your breasts and underarm area
  • A feeling of fullness in your breasts
  • Nipple discharge that may appear yellow, green, or brown
  • Lumpy areas

Hormonal changes, especially around the time of your period, may increase your symptoms.

Fibrocystic changes can make performing breast self-exams, looking for suspicious lumps, a challenge. It is important to examine your breasts each month to get a sense of what is normal for you and to let your doctor know if anything changes.

Most women with fibrocystic changes have no symptoms and do not need treatment, but closer follow-up may be advised. Fortunately, for most women, their breast density and fibrocystic changes decrease after menopause.

Nipple discharge is fluid that leaks from the nipples of one or both of your breasts. Nipple discharge can be a normal response to hormonal changes in your body, especially for women who are nearing menopause. Not all nipple discharge requires treatment, but you should seek an evaluation by a physician. Patients should avoid squeezing the nipples, as this can increase nipple discharge.

Some forms of spontaneous nipple discharge can indicate an underlying problem, especially if the discharge is bloody, as opposed to milky. Other signs that your nipple discharge could be problematic include:

  • Only one of your breast leaks liquid
  • You feel a lump in the leaking breast


A variety of conditions can cause nipple discharge, ranging from fibrocystic changes, papillomas, and breast cancer. Your doctor can evaluate your nipple discharge with a clinical breast exam, along with any of the following tests:

  • Digital mammogram
  • Ultrasound
  • Minimally invasive biopsy
  • Ductogram: special dye is injected into your milk duct through a natural opening on the surface of the nipple. An X-ray is taken to examine the affected area more easily.

A papilloma is a small non-cancerous tumor that develops within your breast duct, a microscopic tubular structure that brings milk to the nipple, while you are breastfeeding. This condition often affects women between the ages of 35 and 55.

Papillomas often cause liquid to leak from your nipples.


Your doctor can perform a clinical breast exam to manually check for nipple discharge, but papillomas are usually too small to feel. Other tests that may be employed include:

  • Digital mammogram
  • Ultrasound
  • Minimally invasive biopsy
  • Ductogram: special dye is injected into your milk duct through a natural opening on the surface of the nipple. An X-ray is taken to examine the affected area more easily.

Generally, our breast surgeons treat papillomas by surgically removing the affected duct.

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