Hyperplasia occurs when cells start to reproduce faster than they should, causing that area of the body to become larger. Because the ducts and lobules in the breast are small and hard to feel, you won’t typically notice the overgrowth of cells.
While hyperplasia is not cancer, it does mean you should create a breast cancer screening plan with your doctor that takes into account that this area needs to be monitored.
Let’s look closer at what these conditions are and how it impacts your risk of breast cancer.
Types of Breast Hyperplasia
There are two categories of breast hyperplasia:
- Ductal hyperplasia (ADH) means that abnormal cells were found in the breast’s milk ducts that allow breast milk to be released. The ducts surround the nipple.
- Lobular hyperplasia (ALH) means abnormal cells were found in the milk-producing part of the breast called a lobule. Lobules link to the ducts.
Among each of these, the hyperplasia can be usual or atypical. Those who have usual hyperplasia have about a 1.5-2 times increased risk of developing breast cancer compared to a woman with no breast conditions. The risk of breast cancer increases by 4-5 times for atypical breast hyperplasia compared to women without breast conditions.
How is Breast Hyperplasia Diagnosed?
Hyperplasia doesn’t usually show specific symptoms. It’s most often discovered during a routine breast exam, mammogram, or ultrasound. If you develop symptoms – a lump, area of thickness, or nipple discharge – have it checked by your doctor.
This abnormal area on a mammogram or ultrasound is then confirmed with a breast biopsy. A biopsy removes a tissue sample from inside your breast where the abnormal cells are located.
The sample cells are then examined under a microscope to determine if they’re abnormal. Atypical hyperplasia is found in about 10% of breast biopsies that are evaluating non-cancerous breast conditions.
Doing a biopsy will confirm the type of cells that are present. If hyperplasia is confirmed, the biopsy report can also tell the doctor whether the cells are usual or atypical.
Is Hyperplasia a Type of Breast Cancer?
Breast hyperplasia is not cancer. However, it increases your risk of developing cancer in the future by four times more than a person without hyperplasia.
If abnormal cells continue to change in their appearance and multiply, they can become non-invasive in situ cancer. In situ means there are cancer cells present, but they remain in the milk ducts.
The type of cancer that typically develops in women with breast hyperplasia is estrogen-positive. This means the cancer cells have extra estrogen receptors that help it to grow. Find out more about the types of breast cancer.
Monitoring and Treatment for Breast Hyperplasia
Usual hyperplasia is monitored closely but not typically surgically removed. Surgery is sometimes an option for women with atypical hyperplasia so that additional breast tissue can be removed from the area around where the biopsy was performed. That tissue will also be tested for abnormal cells.
Regardless of whether it’s usual or atypical breast hyperplasia, or whether surgery was performed, additional screening and self-monitoring are important.
Here are some things you can discuss with your doctor to create a plan that’s right for you.
- Annual clinical breast exams by a healthcare professional
- Annual screening mammograms or breast ultrasound
- Breast MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) or molecular breast imaging provides clearer images, especially for women who have dense breast tissue.
Breast self-exams are another way to become familiar with how your breasts feel normally so you can be more aware of subtle changes that you should discuss with your doctor. Learn more in our blog on breast self-exams and watch this helpful video.
How Can I Lower the Risk of Developing Breast Cancer?
While some people who are at a higher risk of breast cancer never develop it, it’s important to take some steps that can help lower your overall risk level, even if you have breast hyperplasia.
Risk Reduction Tips for All Women
Lifestyle improvements are a good step in the right direction of lowering the likelihood of developing breast cancer. These include:
- Staying at a healthy weight. Talk to your doctor about what’s good for you.
- Avoid or reduce the amount of alcohol you consume. Regularly drinking three to six drinks a week increases risk by an additional 15%.
- Stop smoking, and avoid second-hand smoke. You’ll also reduce your risk for other cancers and heart and lung disease.
- Get moving. Regular physical activity improves your overall health and can help with your weight loss goals.
Don’t Put Off Screening for Breast Cancer!
By the age of 45, you should be having annual mammograms and clinical breast exams. But, if you have a family member with a history of breast cancer or other risk factors, you should talk to your doctor about when you should start screening.
If You Have a Breast Hyperplasia Diagnosis, Add these Steps to Help Lower Your Risk Levels
You may be able to slow or stop the transition of atypical breast hyperplasia into estrogen-positive breast cancer by taking estrogen-blocking medication. Because estrogen boosts the growth of hormone-positive breast cancer, medications that block estrogen help lower your breast cancer risk. If taken for five years, they can provide up to 15 years of prevention.
Medications include Tamoxifen (Nolvadex®) for younger women who are not menopausal; Raloxifene (Evista®), Exemestane (Aromasin®), and Anastrozole (Arimidex®) for postmenopausal women.
Tamoxifen and Raloxifene are also used to treat estrogen receptor cancers (the most common type) and can lower your risk by more than 50%. These medications do not reduce estrogen receptor-negative cancer risk.
While many of these medications can have side effects, the risk of serious side effects is very low.
Take Care of Your Health! Your Loved Ones Will Thank You.
Taking extra precautions after a diagnosis of breast hyperplasia is smart. It’s the best way to lower your risk of future breast cancer. And, if breast cancer is found, it can be found at a very early stage when it’s easier to treat. Did you know that the five-year survival rate among women diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer is 99%? Screening will provide the best chance of a cure and a healthy life. Talk to your doctor about the right screening plan for you.