Atypical hyperplasia is a precancerous condition that affects cells in the breast. Atypical hyperplasia describes an accumulation of abnormal cells in the breast.
Atypical hyperplasia isn't cancer, but it can be a forerunner to the development of breast cancer. Over the course of your lifetime, if the atypical hyperplasia cells keep dividing and become more abnormal, this can transition into noninvasive breast cancer (carcinoma in situ) or invasive breast cancer.
If you've been diagnosed with atypical hyperplasia, you have an increased risk of developing breast cancer in the future. For this reason, doctors often recommend intensive breast cancer screening and medications to reduce breast cancer risk.
Atypical hyperplasia usually doesn't cause any specific symptoms.
Make an appointment with your doctor if you have any signs or symptoms that worry you.
Atypical hyperplasia typically doesn't cause symptoms, but it may cause changes to appear on a mammogram. Atypical hyperplasia is usually discovered during a breast biopsy to investigate an abnormality found on a mammogram. Sometimes atypical hyperplasia is discovered on a biopsy done for a different condition.
It's not clear what causes atypical hyperplasia.
Atypical hyperplasia forms when breast cells become abnormal in number, size, shape, growth pattern and appearance. The appearance of the abnormal cells determines the type of atypical hyperplasia:
Atypical hyperplasia is thought to be part of the complex transition of cells that may evolve into breast cancer. The progression to breast cancer typically involves:
Atypical hyperplasia is usually discovered after a biopsy to evaluate a suspicious area found on a mammogram or during a clinical breast exam. During the biopsy, tissue samples are removed and sent for analysis by a specially trained doctor (pathologist). The tissue samples are examined under a microscope, and the pathologist identifies atypical hyperplasia, if it's present.
To further evaluate atypical hyperplasia, your doctor may recommend surgery to remove a larger sample of tissue to look for breast cancer. A diagnosis of atypical hyperplasia may lead to a surgical biopsy (wide local excision or lumpectomy) to remove all of the affected tissue. The pathologist looks at the larger specimen for evidence of in situ or invasive cancer.
If you've been diagnosed with atypical hyperplasia, you have an increased risk of developing breast cancer in the future.
Women with atypical hyperplasia have a lifetime risk of breast cancer that is about four times higher than that of women who don't have atypical hyperplasia. The risk of breast cancer is the same for women with atypical ductal hyperplasia and women with atypical lobular hyperplasia.
Recent research has revealed that the risk of breast cancer increases in the years after an atypical hyperplasia diagnosis:
Being diagnosed with atypical hyperplasia at a younger age may increase the risk of breast cancer even more. For example, women diagnosed with atypical hyperplasia before age 45 seem to have a greater risk of developing breast cancer during their lifetimes.
Discuss your risk of breast cancer with your doctor. Understanding your risk can help you make decisions about breast cancer screening and risk-reducing medications.
An atypical hyperplasia diagnosis can be stressful, since it increases your risk of breast cancer. Not knowing what the future holds may make you fearful for your health.
With time, every woman develops her own way of coping with atypical hyperplasia and her increased risk of breast cancer. Until you find your way of coping, consider trying to:
Understand your individual risk of breast cancer. Breast cancer risk statistics can be overwhelming and frightening. Breast cancer risk statistics are developed by following many women with atypical hyperplasia and monitoring them for breast cancer. While these statistics can give you an idea of your prognosis, they can't tell you about your own risk of breast cancer.
Ask your doctor to explain your individual risk of breast cancer. Once you understand your personal risk of breast cancer, you can feel more comfortable making decisions about your treatment.
Go to all of your follow-up appointments. If you've been diagnosed with atypical hyperplasia, your doctor may recommend more-frequent breast cancer screening exams and tests. You may find yourself distracted with worry before each exam because you're afraid that your doctor will find breast cancer.
Don't let your fear stop you from going to your appointments. Instead, accept that fear is normal and find ways to cope. Relax, write your feelings in a journal or spend time with a close friend who can lift your spirits.
Maintain your health. Make healthy lifestyle choices to keep yourself healthy. For instance, maintain a healthy weight, eat a healthy diet full of fruits and vegetables, get enough sleep so that you wake feeling rested, and limit the amount of alcohol you drink, if you choose to drink alcohol.
You can't control whether or not you get breast cancer, but you can keep healthy so that you're well enough for breast cancer treatment, should you need it.
Talk with other women in your situation. Talk to other women who have been diagnosed with atypical hyperplasia. Ask your doctor about support groups in your community.
Another option is online message boards. Breast cancer organizations, such as BreastCancer.org, offer message boards for women with a high risk of breast cancer to connect with each other.