Glossary of Terms

When doctors and other medical professionals discuss breast health, they use a wide variety of terms, many of which may not be familiar to you. Brief explanations of some of the most common terms follow.

Benign
Used to describe a lump or other growth that is non-cancerous.

Biopsy
Procedure in which a small piece of breast tissue is removed and analyzed to determine whether breast disease is present.

Breast Cancer
Abnormal cells in the breast growing in an uncontrolled manner.

Breast Disease
This term includes both cancer and a variety of noncancerous conditions affecting the breast.

Breast Lumps
Unusual swelling or hardness in the breast that may be a sign of breast disease.

Breast Self-Exam
A simple process in which women examine their own breasts for signs of problems.

Calcifications
Small, normal pieces of calcium in the breast that may show up on mammograms.

Ductal Papillomas
A breast disease that, while it isnít cancer, may lead to a bloody discharge from the nipples.

Estrogen
A naturally occurring hormone that controls the reproductive cycle and is often used to reduce the discomfort experienced by some women after menopause.

Fat Necrosis
A breast disease that isn't cancerous, and is generally the result of injury to the breast.

Fibroadenoma
A breast disease that primarily affects younger women, and is not cancerous.

Fibrocystic Changes
Nearly all women have this non-cancerous condition that causes lumps or painful cysts in the breast, but it tends to affect middle-aged women the most.

Galactocele
A cyst that is filled with breast milk.

Malignant
Used to describe a lump or other growth that is cancerous.

Mammary Duct Ectasia
Seen most often at the time of menopause, this breast disease is not cancerous.

Mammary Glands
These glands create and deliver milk when women are pregnant or lactating.

Mammogram
A specialized x-ray designed to detect breast lumps and other problems.

Menopause
Generally occurring near age 50, this is when the menstrual cycle ends.

Metastasis
The term used to describe a cancer that is moving through the lymph nodes or bloodstream to other parts of the body.

Microcalcifications
Particles in the breast that are similar to grains of sand, which may be detected in both healthy breasts and those with disease.

Needle Aspiration
A test that uses a very fine needle to determine whether a lump contains fluid.

Needle Localization
A test procedure in which a very fine needle pinpoints a lump or other breast problem, so that the X-ray will be more accurate.

Ultrasound
An examination technique that uses sound waves to examine lumps and other breast problems.