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CIBC Breast Centre

Cancer resources

Your journey through breast cancer

Your journey through breast cancer - This map describes what many women diagnosed with breast cancer experience throughout their journey. It provides a brief overview of possible treatments, members of your health care team, and a rough timeline of the journey. Every breast cancer journey is different just like every breast cancer patient is different. For this reason, it is important to remember that the information in this map is meant as a general guideline and is not specific to any one person or diagnosis.

Benign breast conditions

Types of benign breast disease

Fibrocystic changes


Cysts are sacs filled with fluid, like blisters. Ultrasounds can see cysts because they are filled with fluid. Cysts often happen to women 35-50 years old. They may swell a couple of weeks before a woman's menstrual period and if painful, they can be drained with a fine needle aspiration.


A fibroadenoma is a solid tumour that is made up of connective tissue (fibro) and tissue from the milk glands (adenoma). It is more common for women in their teens and twenties, and more often in black women.

A fibroadenoma usually feels round and rubbery. You can usually see it in an ultrasound, but sometimes a core needle biopsy is needed. If it is growing or very large, it may need to be removed.

Fat necrosis

Fat necrosis usually happens in overweight women with large breasts or after surgical breast procedures or breast trauma. Fat necrosis causes hard, painless lumps and may make the skin look bruised or red. Usually these tumours are removed to make sure that there is no cancer.           

Infections can also cause lumps and breast pain. With an infection, the nipple may release a cloudy discharge. Clear or slightly cloudy nipple discharges may be caused by other benign conditions.


Hyperplasia is a condition where too many cells are growing. If you have a breast lump, your doctor may suggest taking a biopsy (a piece of tissue) to see if there is hyperplasia (too many cells) or cancer. If you have hyperplasia, you may be slightly more at risk for developing breast cancer. Your doctor will encourage you to monitor your breasts carefully to see if there are further changes. Hyperplastic cells appear in about 25 per cent of biopsies of benign conditions.

Atypical Hyperplastic (AH) is when there are too many cells and they are not normal. AH happens in about five percent of biopsies of benign conditions. Women with AH have an average increased risk of developing breast cancer.

If you are diagnosed with AH, your doctor will likely recommend more frequent clinical breast exams and/or mammograms. The use of preventative drugs such as tamoxifen may also be considered in some women with AH.