Most breast lumps are noncancerous, which means they are benign.
You might be surprised to find a breast lump, but it’s important to remember
that it may not affect your long-term health.
However, a breast lump can be a sign of cancer. It’s wise to always
seek a medical evaluation of any lumps or swelling you discover on your
Although breasts are commonly associated with women, breast
tissue is present in both men and women. Your hormones affect this tissue.
Hormonal changes can cause lumps to form and, in some cases, to naturally
disappear. You can develop breast lumps at any age.
Some babies develop breast lumps due to the estrogen they get
from their mothers during birth. These generally clear up as the estrogen
leaves their bodies.
Pre-pubescent girls sometimes get breast lumps that feel tender.
These usually go away naturally during puberty. Adolescent boys can also get
breast lumps during puberty. These are temporary and usually disappear in a few
months as well.
of Breast Lumps
There are many possible causes for a lump in your breast, including:
- breast cysts, which are soft, fluid-filled sacs
- milk cysts, referring to sacs filled with milk
that can occur during breast-feeding
- fibrocystic breasts, a condition in which breast
tissue feels lumpy in texture and is sometimes accompanied by pain
- fibroadenoma, meaning noncancerous rubbery lumps
that move easily within the breast tissue and rarely become cancerous
- hamartoma, which is a benign, tumorlike growth
- intraductal papilloma, referring to a small,
non-cancerous tumor in a milk duct
- lipoma, which is a slow-growing, noncancerous,
- mastitis, or an infection of the breast
- breast cancer
Your Breasts Should Feel
Breast tissue varies in consistency, with the upper-outer part of
your breast being firm and the inner-lower parts feeling somewhat softer. If
you are a woman, your breasts can become more tender or lumpy during your
menstrual cycle. Breasts tend to get less dense as you get older.
It is important to be familiar with how your breasts normally
feel so you are aware of changes. But keep in mind that the U.S.
Preventive Services Task Force does not recommend that your doctor teach
you how to examine your breasts on your own. That’s because there’s little
evidence that breast self-examination reduces the risk of dying from breast
cancer. In fact, breast self-examination may cause harm because you’re more
likely to find a noncancerous lump, which could be a source of worry. In some
cases, this may lead to unnecessary medical procedures to ensure that the lump
Instead of performing breast self-examination, most experts
recommend that women simply be aware of what their breasts normally look and
feel like. For example, the American
College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that women practice
breast self-awareness. You should report any changes or concerns to your
Signs You Should See a Doctor
Remember, most breast lumps are noncancerous. However, you should
make an appointment to see your doctor if:
- you discover a new lump
- an area of your breast is noticeably different
than the rest
- a lump does not go away after menstruation
- a lump changes or grows larger
- your breast is bruised for no apparent reason
- the skin of your breast is red or begins to
pucker like an orange peel
- you have an inverted nipple (if it was not
- you notice bloody discharge from the nipple
to Expect at Your Doctor Visit
When you visit your doctor to report a breast lump, they will
probably ask you questions about when you discovered the lump, and if you have
any other symptoms. They will also perform a physical exam of the breasts.
If your doctor cannot identify the cause of the lump, additional
testing may be ordered.
A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast that helps identify breast
abnormalities. A diagnostic mammogram can be compared to previous screening
mammograms, if available, to see how the breast tissue has changed.
An ultrasound is a noninvasive, painless procedure that uses
sound waves to produce images of your breast.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
This test uses a magnetic field and radio waves to take detailed
pictures of your breast.
Fluid from a breast lump can be removed with a needle. In some
cases, an ultrasound is used to guide the needle. Noncancerous cysts go away
when the fluid is removed. If the fluid is bloody or cloudy, the sample will be
analyzed by a laboratory for cancer cells.
This is a procedure to remove a sample of tissue for analysis
under a microscope. There are several types of breast biopsy:
- fine-needle aspiration biopsy—a tissue
sample is taken during a fine-needle aspiration
- core needle biopsy—uses an ultrasound for
guidance; a larger needle is used to get a tissue sample
- vacuum-assisted biopsy—a probe with a
vacuum is inserted into a small incision in the skin and a tissue sample is
removed using an ultrasound for guidance
- stereotactic biopsy—a mammogram takes
images from different angles and a tissue sample is taken with a needle
- surgical biopsy (excisional biopsy)—the
whole breast lump, along with surrounding tissue, is removed
- surgical biopsy (incisional biopsy)—only
part of the lump is removed
for Breast Lumps
Your doctor must determine the cause of your breast lump before
he or she can formulate a treatment plan. Not all breast lumps will need
If you have a breast infection, your doctor will probably
prescribe antibiotics to treat it. If you have a cyst, it can be drained of
fluids. Usually, cysts go away after they’re drained. In some cases, cysts do
not need to be treated and may disappear on their own.
If the lump is found to be breast cancer, treatment can include:
- lumpectomy, or removing the lump
- mastectomy, which refers to removing your breast
- chemotherapy, which uses drugs to fight or
destroy the cancer
- radiation, a treatment that uses radioactive
rays or materials to fight the cancer
Your treatment will depend on the type of breast cancer you have,
the size and location of the tumor, and whether the cancer has spread beyond
There are other causes of breast lumps which do not require any
treatment. If you have a breast lump due to an injury, your doctor may
recommend allowing your breast time to heal. Some types of breast lump, such as
fibroadenoma, in many cases do not need to be removed or treated at all. That’s
why it’s important not to jump to conclusions if you find a breast lump. Your
doctor can help determine if the lump requires further testing and if any
treatment is needed.