What Is a Breast Lump?
Finding a lump on your breast can be scary. It’s important to remember that most breast lumps are non-cancerous (benign).
However, a breast lump can be a sign of cancer, so you should always seek a medical evaluation of any lumps or swelling you discover on your breasts.
Although associated with women, breast tissue is present both males and females. Your hormones affect this tissue. Hormonal changes can cause lumps to form and in some cases, to naturally disappear. You can develop 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 lumps that feel tender. These later clear up naturally during puberty. Adolescent boys can also get breast lumps during puberty. These are temporary and usually disappear in a few months as well.
Causes of Breast Lumps
Many things can cause a lump to form in your breast, including:
- breast cysts (soft, fluid-filled sacs)
- milk cysts (sacs filled with milk that can occur during breast-feeding)
- fibrocystic breasts (breast tissue that feels lumpy in texture and is sometimes accompanied by pain)
- fibroadenoma (non-cancerous, rubbery lumps that move easily within the breast tissue and rarely become cancerous)
- hamartoma (a benign, tumor-like growth)
- intraductal papilloma (small, non-cancerous tumor in a milk duct)
- lipoma (a slow-growing, non-cancerous, fatty lump)
- mastitis (infection of the breast)
- breast cancer
How Your Breasts Should Feel
Breast tissue varies in consistency, with the upper-outer part of the 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. You should report any changes or concerns to your doctor.
Signs You Should See a Doctor
Remember, most breast lumps are non-cancerous. 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 always inverted)
- you notice bloody discharge from the nipple
What to Expect at Your Doctor Visit
When you visit your doctor to report a breast lump, he or she will probably ask you questions about when you discovered the lump and if you have any other symptoms. He or she will also perform a physical exam of the breasts.
If your doctor cannot identify the cause of the lump, additional testing may be ordered.
This 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.
This is a non-invasive, 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 get detailed pictures of the breast.
Fluid from the lump can be removed with a needle. In some cases, an ultrasound is used to guide the needle. Non-cancerous 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
Treatment 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 treatment.
If you have a breast infection, your doctor will probably prescribe antibiotics to cure it. If you have a cyst, it can be drained of fluids. Usually, cysts will go away after they’re drained.
If the lump is found to be breast cancer, treatment can include:
- lumpectomy (removal of the lump)
- mastectomy (removal of the breast)
- chemotherapy (the use of drugs to fight or destroy the cancer)
- radiation (the use of 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 your breast.