Sclerosing lesions of the breast

Sclerosis of the breast is an area of hardening of the breast tissue that can occur as the breast ages.

Sclerosis is found in these benign (not cancer) breast conditions:

  • sclerosing adenosis
  • radial scar/complex sclerosing lesions.

What is sclerosing adenosis?

Breasts are made up of lobules (milk-producing glands) and ducts (tubes that carry milk to the nipple), which are surrounded by glandular, fibrous and fatty tissue. Sclerosing adenosis is extra growth of tissue within the breast lobules. It can sometimes cause pain or result in a small lump in the breast.

breast diagram

It’s more common as the breast ages, most often in women in their 30s and 40s, but it can occur at any age. Most women will not notice any symptoms and it’s often only diagnosed during a routine mammogram (breast x-ray) or following investigation of an unrelated breast condition.

Diagnosis

Sclerosing adenosis can be difficult to diagnose as it can occasionally look like breast cancer on a mammogram. Because of this, a biopsy may be needed to make a firm diagnosis. This may be done in several ways:

a core biopsy
a stereotactic biopsy
a vacuum-assisted biopsy.

Occasionally a small operation (excision biopsy) may be needed to remove the affected area and confirm that it’s not breast cancer.

Follow up

Once a diagnosis has been confirmed as sclerosing adenosis, no further treatment is needed, even if the area of concern has not been removed. 

What are radial scars and complex sclerosing lesions?

Radial scars and complex sclerosing lesions are benign (not cancer) conditions. They are the same thing but are identified by size, with radial scars usually being smaller than 1cm and complex sclerosing lesions being more than 1cm.

A radial scar or complex sclerosing lesion is not actually a scar. It is an area of hardened breast tissue. Most women will not notice any symptoms and these conditions are often only found on a routine mammogram or during investigation of an unrelated breast condition.

It may not be possible to clearly identify radial scars and complex sclerosing lesions from a breast cancer on a mammogram. Therefore your doctor may suggest you have a core biopsy, which removes small samples of breast tissue, to confirm the diagnosis. Sometimes they may suggest a vacuum-assisted biopsy be done instead. Find out more about these procedures.

Follow up

Even though the diagnosis can usually be made on a core biopsy, your doctor may suggest a small operation (excision biopsy) or a vacuum-assisted technique to remove the radial scar or complex sclerosing lesion completely. Once this has been done and confirmed as a radial scar, or a complex sclerosing lesion, no further tests or treatments will be needed.

Experts disagree as to whether having a radial scar or complex sclerosing lesion might mean a slightly increased risk of developing breast cancer in the future. Some doctors believe that any increase in risk is determined by what else is found (if anything) in the tissue removed, for example, an area of atypical hyperplasia.

What this means for you

Sclerosing adenosis

You may feel anxious about having sclerosing adenosis, even after it is removed. Even though it’s a benign condition, you may still worry about breast cancer.

Sclerosing adenosis doesn’t increase your risk of developing breast cancer.

Radial scar or complex sclerosing lesion

If you have a radial scar or a complex sclerosing lesion, you might be worried or anxious that your risk of developing breast cancer in the future may be slightly increased.

If you’d like any further information or support, call our free Helpline on 0808 800 6000 (Text Relay 18001). 

Being breast aware

It’s still important to be breast aware and go back to your GP if you notice any changes in your breasts, regardless of how soon these occur after your diagnosis of a sclerosing lesion.

Last reviewed: April 2015
Next planned review is April 2018

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