Breast Asymmetry: Causes, How Common It Is, and Treatment Options
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Understand asymmetrical breasts symptoms, including 7 causes & common questions.
Asymmetrical breasts symptoms
Having asymmetrical breasts is very common, especially during breast development in adolescence. This typically resolves by the time the breasts are fully developed. However, 25% of women have some breast asymmetry their whole lives, which is perfectly normal and not necessarily indicative of an underlying condition. In women who do have more significant differences, these can be related to structural variances or lumps. Most breast lumps in women under 50 are usually benign, but any lumps in women over 30 should be evaluated. Breast exams, breast imaging, and breast biopsy are all common ways physicians evaluate breast masses in women.
Common accompanying symptoms of asymmetrical breasts
Symptoms that can be associated with asymmetrical breasts include:
Asymmetrical breasts causes
The following details may help you better understand your symptoms. If your breast asymmetry becomes more apparent or bothersome, you should see a physician.
Asymmetrical breasts may be due to developmental reasons, such as the following.
- Puberty: Asymmetry is common during the development of breasts in adolescence. Commonly, breast asymmetry resolves by the time breasts are fully developed, which typically happens by age 18. The final degree of breast asymmetry cannot be determined until this time.
- Normal variation: Many women have asymmetrical breasts during puberty, and about 25% of these women will have lasting asymmetry into adulthood.
- Prepubescent injury: Injury to breast tissue before it has fully developed can lead to breast asymmetry. Trauma, infection, or radiation to one side of the chest are possible injuries that might lead to asymmetric breast growth.
Growths or masses
Asymmetrical breasts may also be due to a mass in the breast, that can be characterized as one of the following.
- Infection: A breast abscess typically presents as a palpable, swollen mass in one breast with pain, redness, and warmth. Typically, a breast abscess is caused by a bacterial infection. The milk ducts in the breast can also become infected, which is common among women who are breastfeeding.
- Benign breast mass: Breast asymmetry may be due to a palpable breast mass, or a mass in the breast that you can feel. Palpable breast masses are common, and 90% are benign in women 20 to 50 years old. In women under 30, breast masses are commonly bilateral and resolve on their own. Some possible types of benign breast masses include fibrous changes with the menstrual cycle, cysts, or tissue damage following trauma to the breast.
- Malignant breast mass: There are multiple different types of invasive and noninvasive breast cancer that may be the cause of a breast mass. Typically, malignant breast masses are hard, present in one breast, and occur in older women. Malignant masses may also cause pain, overlying skin changes, or nipple discharge.
Other causes that may result in breast asymmetry include the following.
- Skeletal abnormality: Breasts may appear asymmetric due to abnormalities of the bones in the spine or ribs. Rib abnormalities such as fracture or deformity may change the shape of the chest wall, leading to asymmetry.
- Curved spine: Scoliosis is a condition where the spine curves more than usual, either from front to back or from right to left. Severe scoliosis can rotate the torso and give the breasts the appearance of asymmetry even if they are the same size. Scoliosis commonly develops in adolescence.
- Surgical changes: Lumpectomy, removal of part of the breast tissue, or a mastectomy, removal of the entire breast, are common treatments for breast cancer. Some women choose to have reconstructive surgery to maintain breast symmetry, while others do not.
7 asymmetrical breasts conditions
The list below shows results from the use of our quiz by Buoy users who experienced asymmetrical breasts. This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.
Breast infection (mastitis)
Mastitis is an infection of the breast tissue that results in breast pain, swelling, warmth and redness of the breast. Mastitis most commonly affects women who are breast-feeding (lactation mastitis), although sometimes this condition can occur in women who aren't breast-feeding.
Top Symptoms: fatigue, nausea, breast pain, signs of breast inflammation like redness, swelling or fever, fever
Symptoms that always occur with breast infection (mastitis): breast pain, signs of breast inflammation like redness, swelling or fever
Urgency: Primary care doctor
A breast cyst is a fluid-filled sac (like a tiny balloon) inside the breast. Breast cysts are common in women. They might cause a little pain, but they are usually benign (not cancerous).
Top Symptoms: breast pain, breast lump, painful breast lump, movable breast lump
Symptoms that always occur with breast cyst: breast lump
Symptoms that never occur with breast cyst: armpit lump, fever
Urgency: Primary care doctor
A breast abscess is a collection of infected fluid, or pus, within the breast that is generally painful, and may cause fever, chills, fatigue, and body aches.
A breast abscess is a complication of mastitis, an infection of the breast tissue, that develops most commonly in breastfeeding women. ..
Scoliosis causes a sideways curve of your backbone, or spine. Scoliosis is most common in late childhood and the early teens, when children grow fast.
Top Symptoms: spontaneous back pain, shortness of breath on exertion, asymmetrical shoulders, asymmetrical breasts, back deformity
Urgency: Wait and watch
There are several types of breast cancer, depending on the part of the breast where it starts. The most common types are ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), invasive ductal carcinoma and invasive lobular carcinoma.
Women over age 50 with a family history of the disease, and/or certain genetic factors, are most at risk, but anyone can get breast cancer at any age. It is rare in men but does occur.
Symptoms include a lump, thickening, or pain anywhere in the breast or armpit; red, flaky, or irritated breast or nipple skin; nipple discharge; and any area of irregular skin or misshapenness.
Many harmless conditions can cause similar signs, so it is important to see a medical provider about any of these symptoms.
Diagnosis is made through physical examination; imaging such as ultrasound, mammogram, or MRI; and sometimes biopsy.
Treatment involves a combination of surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.
The best prevention is a combination of screening mammograms as recommended by the medical provider, and monthly self-examination.
Top Symptoms: breast pain, armpit lump, breast mass or retraction, breast lump, nipple discharge
Urgency: Primary care doctor
Fibrocystic breast changes
Fibrocystic change is a generalized term used to describe a variety of benign changes in the breast. Symptoms of this condition are breast swelling or pain, as well as nodules, lumpiness, or nipple discharge.
Top Symptoms: breast lump, hard breast lump, nipple discharge, rope-like breast lump
Symptoms that always occur with fibrocystic breast changes: breast lump
Urgency: Primary care doctor
Breast problems such as lumps are very common and often not caused by breast cancer. An intraductal papilloma is such a benign breast lump situated in the milk ducts.
Top Symptoms: breast lump, painful breast lump, painless breast lump, white or clear fluid leaking from the breast, nipple lump
Symptoms that never occur with intraductal papilloma: armpit lump
Urgency: Primary care doctor
Asymmetrical breasts treatments and relief
Some cases of breast asymmetry are treatable at home. Most masses in women under 30 are benign and resolve on their own. If you are over 30 and you notice a new mass, you should see a doctor, especially if you believe you have an infection.
The following treatments for asymmetrical breasts can be completed at home.
- Bras, padding, or inserts: Bras with padding on one side can improve the appearance of asymmetrical breasts. This is especially helpful for adolescents who are self-conscious about breast asymmetry while their breasts are still developing. This is also helpful for people with post-surgical asymmetry due to lumpectomy or mastectomy.
- Observation If you are under the age of 30 and notice a new breast mass, it is most likely benign. A physician may suggest you monitor the lump at home over the course of several menstrual cycles to see if it changes or resolves on its own.
When to see a doctor
If your breast asymmetry is bothersome, you should consult your physician to discuss or complete the following.
- Breast exam: Your physician will examine the breast for abnormalities, and palpate both breasts and the area underneath your armpits to feel for abnormalities.
- Imaging: If you have a new breast mass and are over the age of 30, a physician will recommend imaging. Mammography, breast MRI, and breast ultrasound are all common forms of breast imaging.
- Medication: Your physician will prescribe antibiotics for an infection.
- Biopsy: A biopsy is when a small piece of tissue is removed from the body to determine the cause of disease.
- Bracing: If a physician suspects your breast asymmetry is due to an abnormal curvature of your spine, they may suggest corrective braces to improve spinal alignment.
When it is an emergency
If any of the following apply, you should seek immediate treatment:
- You are over the age of 30 and notice a new breast lump
- You suspect you may have an infection in your breast
Dr. Martin is an Emergency Medicine resident at the University of Washington in Seattle. She received her undergraduate degree from Stanford University where she majored in Human Biology, and received her MD from the University of Pennsylvania. She’s interested in Emergency Medical Services and Flight Medicine, and is currently a resident flight physician with Airlift Northwest. In her free time, she enjoys playing ultimate frisbee, cycling, rock climbing, and trail running!
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