Breast Lumps: Causes & Cancer Risk (2024)

ContentsOverviewPossible CausesCare and TreatmentWhen To Call the DoctorAdditional Common Questions

Overview

What are breast lumps?

A breast lump is a mass or growth that develops in your breast. While a breast lump can be a sign of breast cancer, it’s usually benign (not cancerous). In fact, 8 out of 10 breast lumps are noncancerous. If you feel a lump in your breast or under your arm, try not to panic. A healthcare provider can figure out the cause of the breast lump and determine if you need tests or treatment.

It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with how your breasts normally look and feel so you’re able to notice any changes.

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What does a breast lump feel like?

A breast lump may feel as hard as a rock or squishy like a grape or pea. Breast lumps can occur in your breast tissue or close to your armpit area. The lump might feel hard or different from the rest of your breast tissue.

It’s also common to have a lump that feels:

  • Bumpy.
  • Smooth or spongey.
  • Soft or squishy.
  • Hard or firm.
  • Moveable (you can push it around).
  • Round or irregularly shaped.

Additionally, you may notice the lump feels painful or tender to touch. This isn’t necessarily a sign of a serious problem. The pain may come and go with your menstrual period.

A lump in your breast can be accompanied by nipple changes, such as your nipple turning inward or releasing a clear or bloody discharge.

Keep in mind that a lump in your breast when breastfeeding (chestfeeding) can be a symptom of engorgement or a clogged milk duct. You should contact your healthcare provider if this doesn’t go away within a few days.

What does a cancerous breast lump feel like?

Symptoms of cancerous breast lumps vary for everyone. Some of the things you should watch for include:

  • A hard, “discrete” lump is the most common sign of breast cancer. The tissue feels very different than the surrounding breast tissue. Early on, it’s movable. It becomes less moveable later.
  • Skin changes like dimpling, bulging, puckering or redness, particularly if you see it in a mirror with your arms raised overhead.
  • Changes in the shape or size of your breast.
  • Breast pain that’s localized to one spot.
  • Changes to your nipple, like bloody discharge, an inverted nipple or scaliness/erosion of your nipple. If one nipple suddenly looks different than the other nipple, you should contact your healthcare provider.

Possible Causes

What are the causes of breast lumps?

Causes of breast lumps include:

  • Fibrocystic changes: Tiny, fluid-filled sacs and fibrous (rubbery) tissue can feel like a lump.
  • Breast cysts: Fluid-filled sacs can form when fluid becomes trapped in your milk ducts. Cysts are common in people who haven’t experienced menopause.
  • Fibroadenomas: This benign (noncancerous) lump is the most common breast tumor in younger women and people assigned female at birth (in their 20s and 30s). Your provider may recommend ultrasounds and clinical exams to check on fibroadenomas.
  • Phyllodes tumor: A tumor that occurs in your breast’s connective tissue.
  • Breast calcifications: Very large benign calcium deposits (usually following a breast reduction or tissue flap procedure) can feel like a large hard lump.
  • Breast infection: An infection in the breast tissue can cause a localized area of hardened tissue. A breast abscess can also form (a firm, discrete lump filled with pus due to infection).
  • Breast cancer: A tumor growing in the breast tissue causes a lump.

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What kind of lumps are normal in breasts?

Breast tissue can be naturally bumpy in texture. Some people have lumpier breasts than others. If your breasts feel the same on both sides, it’s probably normal for you. But lumps that feel harder or different may be a cause for concern. If you find a new lump or notice a change in the lumps you already have, it’s a good idea to contact a healthcare provider.

Does a breast lump mean I have cancer?

Breast lumps are one of the symptoms of breast cancer. But, often, breast lumps aren’t 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?

Breast infections are relatively common and can occur in both lactating and non-lactating people. They tend to come on rapidly (days to a week), with pain, redness and sometimes a lump or an area of hardened tissue. They may progress to a breast abscess.

Care and Treatment

What happens at an appointment for a breast lump?

If you feel a lump or anything unusual in your breast, see a 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: Your provider will manually feel around your breast with their fingers.
  • Mammogram and/or ultrasound: These imaging scans provide detailed views of your breast.
  • Occasionally, your provider will want to get additional imaging tests of your breasts.

What happens next?

Depending on the exam and any imaging results at your initial appointment, your healthcare provider will recommend what comes next.

If your provider believes the lump is benign, you’ll return to routine screenings. If a cyst is tense and painful, your provider may remove the fluid to make you more comfortable. If the fluid isn’t bloody, it’s thrown away.

Sometimes, your provider will order additional imaging to check a breast lump such as a breast MRI.

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Will breast lumps go away on their own?

Sometimes, lumps disappear on their own. Younger people may get lumps related to their 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’s causing the lump and determine if it needs further testing 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’s large or painful).
  • Biopsy to further characterize a mass (if it’s suspicious for cancer, painful or getting larger).
  • Cancer treatment if the lump is biopsy-proven breast cancer. Cancer therapies may include surgery, 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 (typically, this entails self-breast examination).
  • Talk to your healthcare provider about your risk, and different available screening options.
  • Know your breast density and how it may affect your mammogram.
  • Report changes in your family history to your provider every year.

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When To Call the Doctor

What kind of breast lump should I worry about?

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 your breast or is different on one side compared to the other.
  • Other breast changes, including nipple inversion (turning inward), dimpled skin or bloody/clear nipple discharge.
  • Redness, pain or tenderness in your breast.
  • Nipple changes, such as scaling.

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.

Additional Common Questions

Can men have breast lumps?

Yes. Men and people assigned male at birth can develop a condition called gynecomastia. It causes their breasts to become tender and may cause a rubbery breast lump to form under their nipple. This condition can be related to a hormonal imbalance or a side effect of medication, although most cases are “idiopathic,” meaning that providers don’t know what causes it.

Men can also develop breast cancer, so if you feel a lump in your breast, see a healthcare provider for an evaluation.

Where is breast cancer usually located?

Most breast cancers begin in your milk ducts or lobules, most often in the upper outer portions of your breast.

What is a red flag for breast cancer?

“Red flags” can vary for each person. Some red flags could include:

  • A change in size, shape or texture of your breast.
  • A mass or lump.
  • Discharge from your nipple.
  • Unusual redness on your nipple or skin of your breast.
  • Localized pain.
  • Nipple erosion or inversion.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Breast lumps can happen for many reasons. They’re common and aren’t usually cancerous. Try not to panic. Contact a healthcare provider if you notice a lump or other changes in your breast. They can determine a cause, order imaging tests and recommend treatment (if necessary). Performing breast self-examinations and being aware of changes in your breast (and body) are important to your health and wellness.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 05/19/2023.

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Breast Lumps: Causes & Cancer Risk (2024)
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