What are breast lumps?
A breast lump is a mass that develops in your breast. While a breast lump can be a sign of breast cancer, often it is not related to cancer. Eight out of 10 breast lumps are noncancerous. If you feel a lump in your breast or under your arm, see your healthcare provider. Your healthcare provider will figure out the cause of the breast lump and determine whether or not it needs additional workup or treatment.
Can men have breast lumps?
Yes. Men can develop a condition called gynecomastia. The male breast becomes enlarged and sometimes tender. A breast lump may also form underneath the nipple. Gynecomastia often occurs in both breasts. This condition can be related to a hormonal imbalance or a side effect of medication, although additional workup may be considered to determine a cause. Most often, a cause is never determined; it is called “idiopathic.”
Men can also develop breast cancer, so if you feel a lump in your breast, see your healthcare provider for an evaluation.
What does a breast lump feel like?
A breast lump may feel like a frozen pea or lima bean. It might feel hard or different from the rest of your breast tissue.
Does a breast lump mean I have cancer?
Breast lumps are one of the symptoms of breast cancer. However, often, breast lumps are not cancerous. Several other conditions can cause breast lumps.
Talk to your healthcare provider if you notice a breast lump. If it is cancer, treatment is more successful when started early.
Is a breast lump an infection?
A breast lump can be a sign of a breast infection, such as mastitis or abscess. Breast infections can cause painful lumps, most often with associated warmth and redness.
What are the causes of breast lumps?
Causes of breast lumps include:
- Changes in the breast tissue (fibrocystic changes): Tiny, fluid-filled sacs and fibrous (rubbery) tissue feel like lumps.
- Breast cysts: Fluid-filled sacs form when fluid becomes trapped in the milk ducts. Cysts are common in premenopausal women.
- Fibroadenomas: This benign (noncancerous) lump is the most common breast tumor in young women (20s and 30s). Fibroadenomas are most common during a person’s reproductive years.
- Breast infection: An infection in the breast tissue can cause a lump.
- Breast cancer: A tumor growing in the breast tissue causes a lump.
Care and Treatment
What happens at an appointment for a breast lump?
If you feel a lump or anything unusual in your breast, see your healthcare provider. Here’s what you can expect at the initial appointment:
- Health history: Your healthcare provider asks you about your symptoms, medical history and family history.
- Breast exam (mammogram and/ or ultrasound): These imaging scans provide detailed views of the breast.
- Discussion about other tests you might need: Your healthcare provider may want to examine the lump further.
What tests might I need for a breast lump?
Depending on the exam at your initial appointment, your healthcare provider may schedule other tests, including:
- Breast MRI: This imaging scan uses magnetic fields to create detailed breast images.
- Needle aspiration: Using a needle, your healthcare provider removes a sample of cells for evaluation.
- Biopsy: This procedure removes a larger tissue sample for analysis. There are several types of biopsy procedures. During a core biopsy, radiologists use a larger needle to remove a tissue sample. During an excisional biopsy, surgeons remove the entire breast lump.
Will lumps go away on their own?
Sometimes, lumps disappear on their own. Younger people may get lumps related to the menstrual cycle (period). Those lumps go away by the end of the cycle. However, always notify your healthcare provider about any lumps. Your provider can figure out what is causing the lump and determine if it needs further workup or treatment.
How are breast lumps treated?
Treatment for a breast lump depends on the cause. Some lumps don’t require any treatment.
Breast lump treatment includes:
- Antibiotics for a breast infection.
- Fluid drainage for a breast cyst (if it is large or painful).
- Excisional biopsy to remove a mass (if suspicious for cancer, painful or enlarging).
- Cancer treatment if the lump is biopsy-proven breast cancer. Cancer therapies may include lumpectomy, mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
How can I maintain good breast health?
Pay attention to your body. If you notice changes or something feels off, talk to your healthcare provider. Ways to keep your breasts healthy:
- Be aware of breast changes and report any concerns to your healthcare provider.
- Talk to your healthcare provider about screening options.
- Know your breast density and how it may affect your mammogram.
- Report changes in your family history to your provider every year.
When to Call the Doctor
When should I call my healthcare provider about a breast lump?
Breast tissue is naturally lumpy. If the lumpiness feels like the rest of your breast, or like your other breast, you probably don’t need to worry. Call your healthcare provider if you notice:
- An unusual lump or mass in your breast or under your arm that feels harder than the rest of the breast or is different on one side as compared to the other.
- Other breast changes including nipple inversion (turning inward), dimpled skin, or bloody/clear nipple discharge.
- Redness, pain or focal tenderness in your breast.
- Nipple changes such as excoriation or scaling. (Excoriation is an obsessive-compulsive mental disorder where you pick at your skin so much that you damage it.)
Breast lumps have many causes. Most of the time, they’re not cancer. If you feel a breast lump or any other change in your breast, talk to your healthcare provider. They can figure out the cause of the lump and if you need treatment. Don’t put off taking care of your breast health. If the lump is cancer, treatment is most successful if started early.