Palpable Breast Masses
from the American College of Radiology
"Breast cancer is the most common female malignancy and the second leading cause of female cancer death in the United States. It is estimated that 249,260 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed in 2016 . Although the majority of palpable lumps are benign, a new palpable breast mass is a common presenting sign of breast cancer.
A palpable breast mass may become evident during breast self-examination or clinical breast examination. Breast cancer may present as a palpable mass in women not undergoing regular screening mammography because of young or advanced age or personal choice. Breast cancer may also present as a palpable mass in between mammographic screens (interval cancer).
In general, cancers detected symptomatically tend to be more aggressive than screen-detected cancers and to have a poorer prognosis [2-5]. Determining if a mass is present by physical examination can be difficult, as all breasts have variable combinations of glandular tissue, fibrosis, and fat. True masses are generally asymmetrical in relation to the other breast, distinct from the surrounding tissues, and three-dimensional. A typical cancer may be firm, have indistinct borders, and have attachments to the skin or deep fascia with dimpling or nipple retraction.Palpable breast thickening, defined as greater firmness of an area of the breast compared with the other breast or other quadrants of the same breast, may also be associated with breast cancer in about 5% of women.
Benign masses typically are mobile and have discrete, well-defined margins and a soft or rubbery texture. Cysts cannot reliably be distinguished from solid breast masses by palpation. In 1 study, only 58% of 66 palpable cysts were correctly identified by physical examination . Significant disagreement among experienced examiners may occur. In another study, 4 surgeons performed physical examinations independently and agreed on the need for biopsy of only 73% of 15 masses subsequently proven malignant.
Because many breast masses may not exhibit distinctive physical findings, imaging evaluation is necessary in almost all cases to characterize the palpable lesion. Any woman presenting with a palpable lesion should have a thorough clinical breast examination, usually by the referring clinician or by a specialist breast clinician, but the radiologist must also be able to establish concordance between an imaging finding and a clinically detected mass
When a suspicious finding is identified, image-guided biopsy is indicated. It is preferable for imaging to occur before biopsy, as changes related to the biopsy may confuse, alter, obscure, and/or limit image interpretation.
The negative predictive value of mammography with ultrasound (US) in the context of a palpable mass ranges from 97.4% to 100%.
Nevertheless, negative imaging evaluation should never overrule a strongly suspicious finding on physical examination or vice versa. Any highly suspicious breast mass detected by imaging or palpation should undergo biopsy unless there are exceptional clinical circumstances such as the patient having significant comorbid factors.
Overview of Imaging Modalities Recommended imaging options in the context of a palpable mass include diagnostic mammography and targeted breast US and are dependent on patient age and degree of radiologic suspicion.
There is little role for advanced technologies such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), positron emission mammography with fluorine-18-2- fluoro-2-deoxy-D-glucose (FDG-PEM), or Tc-99m sestamibi molecular breast imaging (MBI) in the evaluation of a palpable mass. "