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Benign Breast Disease Increases Risk, Amount Depends on Other Factors

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It's good to know that a lot of breast abnormalities found by you, your doctor, or on a mammogram will turn out to be benign breast disease. Benign breast disease is not cancerous and not life-threatening. Cysts and fatty tumors are examples of benign breast disease. Still, having benign breast disease does increase a woman's risk of breast cancer in the future.

A study found that the amount of increase in risk associated with benign breast disease in young women depends on the pathology of the benign disease and family breast cancer history. These results were presented at the 2008 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium.

Researchers followed the medical histories of 4,460 women diagnosed with benign breast disease before age 50 for 20 years. During the follow-up period, 326 women (7%) were diagnosed with breast cancer. The researchers compared the characteristics or "personality" of the benign breast disease and the family histories of the women who developed breast cancer with the women who didn't.

The researchers found that:

  • Breast cancer risk was more than 100% higher than average in women diagnosed with benign breast disease and some family history of breast cancer.
  • Breast cancer risk was 32% higher than average in women diagnosed with benign breast disease and no family history of breast cancer.
  • Breast cancer risk was nearly 700% higher than average when proliferation (excessive tissue growth) and atypical (not completely normal) cells were seen in the benign breast disease.
  • Breast cancer risk was 20% higher than average when there was no proliferation and no atypical cells in the benign breast disease.
  • Breast cancer risk was 72% higher than average when lobular involuation (a decrease in the number of milk-producing lobules) wasn't seen in the benign breast disease.
  • Breast cancer risk was 32% lower than average when lobular involuation was seen in the benign breast disease.

Because decreasing the number of milk-producing lobules actually lowers breast cancer risk, finding ways to make lobular involution happen might lead to new, better ways to prevent and treat breast cancer.

If you've been diagnosed with benign breast disease, your risk of developing breast cancer is higher than average. How much higher your risk is depends on your family history and the "personality" of the benign disease. Together, you and your doctor can consider all the aspects of your unique situation and develop a risk reduction plan that makes the most sense for YOU.

Visit the Breastcancer.org Lower Your Risk section to learn more about your options keeping your breast cancer risk as low as it can be.

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