Breast disease: a primer on diagnosis and management

Int J Fertil Womens Med. 1997 Sep-Oct;42(5):278-87.


Currently, mammography is the only method of detecting nonpalpable, early breast cancer. At this stage, 90% of the cancers are curable. Clearly, this fundamental tenet accentuates the importance of compliance and knowledge of guidelines. Although risks of mammography are minimal to nil, interpretation occasionally can be challenging, with equivocal results. New technologies are being evaluated and advances in measurement of cellular electrical potential differentials in breast tissue have produced exciting results, when compared with mammography and ultrasound. These screening efforts have increased the diagnosis of both invasive and noninvasive ductal and lobular carcinoma of the breast. For DCIS in particular, conservative, contemporary treatment options exist. These include lumpectomy with breast irradiation excluding axillary dissection. Selected patients may be treated with only lumpectomy. Although breast carcinoma is a major focus due to incidence, morbidity and mortality, the varieties of benign conditions cause many women genuine concern. Treatment options for fibrocystic change run a gamut, including cost-effective basic dietary changes, vitamin use, "health"/natural type treatments, analgesic, as well as hormonal manipulations and, on occasion, surgical intervention. Fortunately, with most patients, common sense and conservatism prevail. The presence of fibroadenomas diagnosed clinically, by ultrasound or mammography, in women aged 18-25 and beyond can create perplexing diagnostic dilemmas. Should the lesion be removed or observed? Differences of opinion exist and must be tempered by recent observations that women with complex fibroadenomas, sclerosing adenosis, epithelial calcification or papillary appocrine changes have a two- to threefold increased risk of breast cancer. The key to management in all these clinical situations is individualization. Conservatism is particularly acceptable in women under the age of 25 if a fibroadenoma is not increasing in size or not psychologically disturbing. Provoked or unprovoked nipple discharge is a clinical conundrum for patients. It is unsuspected and unwanted. While some whitish discharges result from stimulation or medication, others may have a more subtle etiology. Serous, serosanguineous, or bloody discharges mandate evaluation. Duct injection mammography and frequent excision of ductal systems are necessary. The clinician cannot forget other less common conditions, such as thrombophlebitis, fat necrosis, or infection. All clinical conditions of the breast provide a constellation of diagnostic and management problems. They are of real concern for every woman and must be resolved in an appropriate, prompt, and conscientious fashion.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Breast Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Breast Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Carcinoma in Situ / diagnosis
  • Carcinoma in Situ / therapy
  • Carcinoma, Ductal, Breast / diagnosis
  • Carcinoma, Ductal, Breast / therapy
  • Carcinoma, Lobular / diagnosis
  • Carcinoma, Lobular / therapy
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Female
  • Fibroadenoma / diagnosis
  • Fibroadenoma / therapy
  • Humans
  • Mammography / methods
  • Middle Aged
  • Papilloma, Intraductal / diagnosis
  • Papilloma, Intraductal / therapy
  • Risk Factors
  • Treatment Outcome