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Breast Cysts
Health Guide
What is a cyst?

A cyst is a fluid filled sac that can be found in different parts of the body. If it occurs in breast tissue it is termed a breast cyst.

How does it occur?

The milk glands produce milk in pregnancy but in the non pregnant breast sometimes fluid is generated and this is cyst fluid. If the cyst connects to a main duct, it may present as a nipple discharge.

Who gets breasts cysts?

Breast cysts are relatively common, especially in women between the ages of 30 - 50 years. They are not usually present after menopause.

What is the problem with having breast cysts?

Cysts are not cancer, and do not lead to breast cancer. However, if they appear as a lump, or show on your mammogram, we need to confirm that they are just breast cysts and not cancer.

Breast cysts have a variety of features.

    (1)You may not even be aware that you have them
    (2)They may present as new lump
    (3)They may appear overnight or rapidly
    (4)They may be painful, or painless
    (5)They can occur in either one breast or both breasts
    (6)They may occur as a single cyst or there may be many present
    (7)They can vary in size and shape, and may contain thin or thick fluid
    (8)They may feel firm or hard, smooth and mobile
    (9)They can go away and recur


How do we find out about cysts

Usually a woman notices a new breast lump and sees her doctor to get it checked out. If, after asking a few questions and following a breast examination, a cyst is suspected then an ultrasound scan can be done. Cysts can be seen on ultrasound scan, and have certain characteristics that tell us they are just cysts and not cancer.

Sometimes a cyst may show up on a routine mammogram as an area of smooth density - an ultrasound scan will determine that this density is a cyst.

What do we do about breast cysts?

Generally breast cysts do not require surgery to remove them. They can be aspirated to make them go away, relieve any discomfort, or to obtain a sample of the fluid to reassure that it is not cancer. In this simple procedure, the skin over the breast cyst is made numb with local anaesthetic, a fine needle is passed into the cyst, and the fluid drawn up into a syringe. This can be done by using the ultrasound probe as a guide, or by feeling the cyst. Once the fluid is removed the cyst usually collapses and disappears.

Cyst fluid can vary in colour from cream/light brown through to green to black, depending on the amount of protein in it.Are breast cysts a worry?

Mostly the answer is no! Definitely not. Very rarely a breast cyst can have an over-active lining. In this case it will not look or behave like a normal breast cyst. These are the type of cysts we like to test further, to make sure they are not a cancer.

If you have a cyst that:

(1)Re-accumulates quickly after being aspirated, i.e. within 6 weeks
(2)Does not disappear on being aspirated
(3)Has fluid in it that is watery, pale yellow or blood stained.
(4)Looks different on ultrasound then further investigations are needed to totally exclude a cancer.


Finally if you have any new lump, or any concerns about a breast cyst, please contact us or your family doctor.Link to St Marks Breast Centre Online

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