A hamartoma is a focal growth that can occur anywhere on the body, but typically in the breasts, on the chest, skin and the brain. Less commonly, hamartomas can be found in eyes, colon and liver. It resembles a neoplasm but in fact it is caused by faulty development in an organ.
Hamartomas can be associated with tuberous sclerosis. If they occur in different organs at the same time, they may indicate a condition called Cowden’s disease. Hamartomas are often benign, but in Cowden’s disease there is an increased risk they may undergo malignant changes. There is a similar condition called Proteus’ syndrome, in which multiple benign hamartomas form throughout the body. This condition, which was fairly obscure for the non-medical public, gained much attention after the movie “The Elephant Man” was released.
As for the incidence, it varies depending on the particular organ where hamartomas are formed. Cowden’s disease is rare and there have been only 120 cases of Proteus’ syndrome reported worldwide. Skin hamartomas are often mistaken for birthmarks while those on internal organs, mainly being asymptomatic, are usually discovered by accident, in tests performed for other reasons.
Hypothalamic hamartoma, located on the brain, near the hypothalamus, is rare and benign brain tumor associated with epilepsy.
Benign breast hamartoma
Breast hamartomas are rare and they comprise of benign lesions in the breasts, made of a combination of fat, glandular and fibrous tissues. They are mostly found in women older than 35 and they are generally asymptomatic, although they can be easily detected through palpitation in a breast exam. Any lesion in the breast should be examined because when they are palpated they can easily be confused. Hamartomas are usually diagnosed through a mammogram or an ultrasound and in some cases needle aspiration is done to determine the nature and the density of the growth.
Breast hamartomas sized 0.7 inches or less are considered normal and those of two inches or more are classified as large. These lesions are considered benign, and if they are small and not growing, they can be left untreated. However, it is believed that occurrence of hamartomas increases the risk of developing breast cancer, which is why women diagnosed with hamartomas are advised to do self-exam of the breasts on regular basis and to have regular check-ups.
Surgical removal is indicated in cases where the tests show abnormalities regarding hamartomas, such as increased growth or cell activity, or in cases where the growth alters the shape of the breast. The surgical procedure for removal of a hamartoma is called lumpectomy.