Dear Alice,

I am interested in your response to the question about breast lumps because I had a fibroadenoma removed about two years ago while I was pregnant. The surgeon said at the time that there was no evidence of increased risk of breast cancer for those with these kinds of lumps, but I subsequently heard a report on NPR on a study which did find some increased risk in women who have had fibro-adenomas. Are you familiar with this study, and can you tell me what the increased risk is?

—Attentive listener

Dear Attentive listener,

The question you are referring to about fibroadenomas is Breast lump. While the cause of the lumps is unknown, some research has related the presence of fibroadenomas to fat consumption. It is not unusual for women to develop one or more fibroadenomas in one or both breasts. There are cases where a fibroadenoma may grow large enough to change the shape of the breast or interfere with the circulation process. Fibroadenomas can be removed surgically to remedy such situations, or may be removed merely as a precautionary measure, as it can be difficult to ascertain whether a lump is benign, or whether it will grow larger if it is left inside the breast.

Thanks to a helpful reader, the study you heard about on NPR may have been identified. The July 1994 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine reported on fibroadenoma as a long-term risk factor for breast cancer. According to the study, patients with fibroadenoma are 2.17 times more likely to develop breast cancer than those without it.

A 1997 article in that same journal, however, qualified those findings by arguing that instead of being a risk factor for breast cancer themselves, fibroadenomas may only indicate a more general higher risk for the disease. The nature of the growth, in addition to a family history of breast cancer, needs to be taken into account, and women without these other factors do not appear to be at any elevated risk.

Medical conclusions are often the result of multiple studies to confirm the findings, and no matter how dependable the New England Journal of Medicine article may be, it can be unwise to base opinions on a single source. In light of this, you might want to keep up-to-date on new research developments. The National Cancer Institute's Cancer Information Service (1.800.4.CANCER) is a good resource to keep in mind. If you call this info line every few months, you can learn about any related updates. Also you can keep talking with your health care provider about the latest information and choices you have in maintaining your health.


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