Not many women get it or have even heard of it. But when granulomatous mastitis suddenly occurs, it can cause panic and fear. This is because the condition shows up as a firm lump in the breast — a symptom that is similar to breast cancer. However, unlike cancerous tumours in the breast, which are usually painless, granulomatous mastitis lumps often cause pain.

“Women who seek attention for breast lumps usually come with the concern that they may be cancerous,” said Dr Julie Liana Hamzah, Associate Consultant, Department of Breast Surgery, Singapore General Hospital (SGH).

Besides pain, other symptoms can include skin inflammation and redness, and fever. In more serious cases, there may be ulceration or even enlarged lymph nodes. The condition is rare. According to Dr Julie, her department sees a handful of women with granulomatous mastitis a year. It is unclear what causes granulomatous mastitis, although some conditions such as tuberculosis and sarcoidosis, an inflammatory disease, can lead to it. Most cases, however, are idiopathic, meaning no cause can be found to explain its occurrence, said Dr Julie.

Idiopathic granulomatous mastitis tends to show up in women of childbearing age between their late 20s and 40s, especially those who have had children. Nevertheless, the condition has also been known to occur in women in this age group who have not given b