A lump in breast usually hurts (sore and painful) but can also be painless. It may be small (pea sized) or large, soft or hard and sometimes movable. Broad types include benign and malignant or cancer breast lumps. Typically, a benign breast lump occurs before or during period, during pregnancy or while breastfeeding. This post presents facts, pictures, causes, signs, and symptoms of various types of breast lumps. Also, it outlines diagnosis and treatment of lumps in breast, including removal by surgery.
a breast lump is localized swelling within the breast tissue. It is an indication of a variety of conditions. About 10% of women with breast lumps end up being diagnosed with breast cancer.
Therefore, it is vital to receive a regular evaluation of your breast in order to discover breast cancer at the earliest stage in case you happen to develop it.
Signs and Symptoms of Breast Lumps
What does a breast lump feel like? The characteristics of breast lumps vary from one individual to another. The cause of the lumps also determines what it feels like. General signs and symptoms may include:
- Irregular nodules or small lumps in the breast
- Dense breast tissue
- Breast discomfort and general tenderness or pain but they may occur without pain.
Types of Breast Lumps
Breast lumps can be classified into different types based on their causes, nature or medical implication. Lumps in breast are generally grouped into benign (non-cancerous) and malignant (cancerous). These may further be subdivided into subcategories.
Benign Breast Lumps
These are breast lumps that are not cancerous. They include:
- Breast cysts
- Clogged milk duct
- Flatty lumps such as lipomas and fat necrosis
- Lumps caused by trauma such as seroma and breast hematomas
- Lumps caused by infections such as mastitis, breast cellulitis, and breast abscesses
- Growths such as fibroadenomas, fibrocystic lumps, and intraductal papillomas
Breast Cancer Lumps
Malignant or breast cancer lumps are lumps that ae associated with cancer. The term cancer refers to a group of diseases involving abnormal and uncontrollable growth of body cells. This abnormal growth usually forms a mass, but not always. Cancer often invades or spreads to other parts of the body.
Breast Lumps Pictures (Images)
We have inserted a few pictures of breast lump pictures. You may use them for general learning purposes. However, you should not use the images for self-diagnosis. Instead, visit your doctor for definitive diagnosis and proper treatment.
Breast Lump Causes
The common causes of breast lumps include clogged milk ducts, breast cysts, injuries, fatty lumps. They can also develop due to benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous) growths (tumors).
1. Clogged Milk Duct
A clogged milk duct is a condition in which milk accumulates in the milk duct when it is unable to move due to congestion. As a result, the tissue around the duct may become inflamed and swollen.
The swell may press on the duct, causing a blockage in the milk duct. This may lead to a small, hard lump which is sore and very tender (painful to touch) in your breast. Other symptoms include redness, swelling and hot sensation around the affected area of the breast.
Clogged milk ducts typically affect breastfeeding women. However, it is also common during pregnancy as the breasts undergo changes in readiness to produce milk for the baby after birth.
2. Breast cysts
A breast cyst a benign (non-cancerous) sac of fluid in the breast. When you touch the affected area of your breast, it feels rubbery under the skin. It is usually painless but may be tender (painful to touch) or painful.
A cyst is not an infection, although it may get infected if it is exposed to pathogens. Generally, breast cysts develop due to changes in hormones that control the menstrual cycle. Hence, they tend to develop in younger women but are rare in women above 50 years, especially before or during period.
3. Fatty Lumps
(i) Fat necrosis
This is a condition in which the normal fat cells of the breast become round lumps. This usually occurs due to breast tissue damage from physical trauma or surgery.
Fat necrosis feels like a firm, round lump (or lumps) when you touch your breast. It is usually painless, but may feel tender or sometimes a little painful. In addition, the skin around the lump may appear red, bruised or sometimes slightly dimpled.
Typically, this condition goes away without treatment. However, it can form permanent lumpy scar tissue on the breast.
This is a non-cancerous lump of fatty tissue. Typically, a lipoma is soft to the touch and is usually movable and generally painless.
The cause of lipomas is not clear. However, risk factors may include family history, obesity or inadequate body exercise. Generally, lipomas are not associated with cancer and do not pose any serious medical risk. However, they may cause discomfort, especially when they are large.
4. Breast Lumps Caused by Injuries
The common breast lumps that develop as a result of injuries include seroma and breast hematomas. The injuries involved may be due to physical trauma or breast surgery.
(i) Breast hematomas
A breast hematomas refers to a collection of blood within a localized area within the breast as a result of from internal bleeding (hemorrhage). Symptoms usually include breast pain, lumpy swelling and visible discoloring on the breast.
It is usually caused by trauma (due to breast injury or surgery) but may sometimes result from a non-traumatic cause. The trauma makes tiny blood vessels in the breast rupture, causing an area of localized bleeding in the breast.
A seroma is a sac of clear fluid that may develop in the breast tissue after surgery or injury. The fluid is made up of a fluid produced by the injured cells and blood plasma that seeps out of burst small blood vessels in the breast tissue.
A seroma can occur in any part of the body. Usually, the body will absorb the fluid gradually over several days or weeks. However, a knot of hardened tissue sometimes remains in the affected area.
5. Breast Lumps Caused by Infections
Various infections in the breast may lead to different lumpy conditions in the breast. Common ones include mastitis, breast cellulitis, and breast abscesses.
Mastitis refers to a condition whereby there is inflammation in the breast tissue due to an infection. It is characterized by a hard area in the breast tissue. Mastitis may cause a clogged milk duct, which leads to a usually hard lump in breast that hurts.
Occasionally, the skin on the nipple or areola gets injuries or cracks, particularly as a result of breastfeeding. Bacteria may gain entry into the breast tissue through small cracks and cause an infection. Accordingly, mastitis typically affects breastfeeding mothers.
(ii) Breast Cellulitis
Breast cellulitis refers to an inflammation of the skin and the underlying tissue in the breast area. It is a skin infection caused by different types of bacteria, but especially the streptococcus bacteria.
The infection usually occurs as a result of breast surgery or lymph node dissection. Typical symptoms include the affected area becoming hot, red, swollen and painful to touch. These symptoms may spread out to the nearby areas such as the shoulder, upper arm and the back
(iii) Breast Abscesses
A breast abscess is an abscess that forms in the breast. It is a collection of pus within a localized area of the breast tissue due to an infection. They tend to occur more in breastfeeding mothers because of the exposure to bacteria due to injuries around the nipples.
An abscess that forms beneath the skin is called a sebaceous abscess or a boil. It is an infection of a hair follicle by bacteria, particularly Staphylococcus aureus.
A single boil over an area of the skin is known as furuncle while a cluster of boils is called a carbuncle. An abscess causes a hard solid area that it characteristically very painful. Also, the skin around the affected area turns red and the feels hot.
6. Benign Growths (Non-cancerous Lumps)
Fibroadenomas are common solid, firm and movable growing tumors in the Breast. They are usually painless but can occasionally be slightly tender. They are benign (not cancerous) growths.
Fibroadenomas develop when glandular tissues and ducts surrounding breast lobules grow over the lobule to form a solid lump. They tend to develop quickly in teenager girls or in women during pregnancy, mainly due to hormonal changes.
(ii) Fibrocystic Lumps
Fibrocystic lumps occur as a result of fibrocystic changes, also called fibrocystic breasts, fibrocystic breast disease or fibrocystic breast condition (FBC). It is a common condition that affects about 30-60% of women and at least 50% of women of childbearing age.
The condition causes irregular lumpy lesions in the breast tissue that may be painful. Sometimes, it only causes pain without lumps. Fibrocystic and tend to affect women whose breasts are highly sensitive to the hormonal changes.
(iii) Intraductal Papillomas
Intraductal papillomas are wart-like lesions that grow in the breast ducts. Usually, the lumps can be felt just under the nipple. The condition often causes a discharge from the nipples, which is usually bloody.
Intraductal papillomas are the most common cause of nipple discharge among women in child-bearing age. There are no known causes or risk factors for this condition.
7. Malignant Growths (Cancer Lumps)
A lump in a breast may be a sign of breast cancer. However, there are various forms of breast cancer, some of which do involve lumps in the breast tissue.
What does a breast cancer lump feel like? You may assess a breast lump by its pain and its feel to touch. In general, a hard, firm and painless lump that is fixed in place is more likely to be a cancer lump. On the other hand, a lump that is painful, softer moveable and painful signifies an infection.
Besides lumps, other symptoms of cancer lumps may include swollen breast and nipple discharge or redness. Also, you may have changes such as dimpling or orange-like peeling in the breast skin.
However, this is not a rule since non-cancerous or cancerous lumps may exhibit either of the symptoms. There are no definite signs and symptoms that may be used to definitively distinguish between benign and cancer lumps.
Therefore, it is highly advisable to go for cancer screening as soon as you notice one to rule out breast cancer. This is because earlier stages of cancer are easier and inexpensive to treat. On the other hand, later stages are difficult, painful and very expensive to treat. Too late stages may not be treatable.
Hard Lump in Breast
A hard lump feels like a grain in your breast when you try to roll it between your fingers during self-examination. Firm and hard lumps are more likely to be cancerous, especially when they are also painless. However, other conditions such as clogged milk duct may also lead ton a hard lump in breast.
Movable Lump in Breast
A soft movable lump in breast is likely to be a Lipoma. On the other hand, a solid, firm and movable lump may be a sign of fibroadenomas, especially if it is also growing. However, you still need to see your doctor for definitive diagnosis, especially to rule out cancer.
Painful Lump in Breast
A painful lump in breast is more likely to be caused by infections rather than cancer, especially when soft and movable. Cancer lumps tend to be painless and hard or firm. However, this does not rule out the possibility of cancer. Only diagnosis can tale the nature of the lump.
Sudden Painful Lump in Breast
In case you get a sudden painful lump in breast, it is likely to be a cyst. Breast cysts may appear suddenly overnight in response to hormonal changes that regulate the menstrual cycle. Hence they tend to show up before or during period.
Small (Pea-Sized) Lump in breast
You may have a small, pea-sized lump, or one smaller than a pea that may be firm or movable. In case it is hard, you can roll it between your fingers when during self-examination. Generally, large breast lumps are rare.
Whether large or small, hard or soft, you may not be able to definitively determine the type and cause of the lump. You need to visit your doctor for definitive diagnosis and proper treatment.
Lump in Breast Before Period, During Pregnancy or Breastfeeding
Usually, breast lumps that occur before or during period are breast cysts. They are triggered by hormonal changes related to the menstrual cycle.
Lumps due to clogged milk ducts are very common among women during pregnancy, especially in the third trimester. By this time, the breasts are undergoing changes for milk production after birth.
On the other hand, breast lumps that occur during breastfeeding are generally related to infections. Breastfeeding may irritate the nipples, areola and the surrounding area. As a result, bacteria may enter the breast through the tiny skin breaks or cracks due to the irritation.
Male Breast Lump
Generally, most breast lumps in men are as a result of gynecomastia. This is a harmless enlargement of breast tissue, which may sometimes cause pain in the affected breast. However, a painful or painless lump in the breast of a man may be a sign of breast cancer in men. Breast lumps are one of the main symptoms of male breast cancer.
Breast Lump Diagnosis
You may discover a lump in your breast during a breast self-examination. In such a case you should immediately visit your doctor for definitive diagnosis, advice, and treatment.
Alternatively, your doctor may discover it during a routine check-up. Whichever way, your doctor will carry out further diagnosis to determine the type and cause of breast lump you have. Diagnosis of a breast lump may include the following:
1. Physical Examination
Physical examination of a lump in breast usually involves the following procedures:
- Questions: The doctor will ask you questions about the development and changes the lump in your breast has undergone. Whether the lump is painful, tender or painless.
- Observation: In case the lump in your breast is close to the skin or protrudes, your doctor will carefully observe it. Important characteristics will include its appearance, color, size and shape, and
- Palpation: The doctor will also palpate (massage or touch with the fingers) the lump in your breast to find out its structural form, how big it is and whether it is hard or soft.
Further Tests for Breast Lump
If your doctor fills that the physical examination is not adequate in the diagnosis, he/she may order further testing. This may include one or a combination of some of the following tests:
- Biopsy: This test involves taking a small piece of tissue from the lump in your breast. The tissue is taken to the laboratory for tests. This may involve examining the tissue under a microscope to find out the problem that is associated with the lump in your breast.
- Ultrasound: Ultrasound imaging or ultrasound scanning uses high-frequency sound waves to produce signals from the inside of your breast. The signal is then converted into pictures on a video screen. The doctor studies the images to determine the cause of the lump.
- X-Ray: Your doctor may order a chest or breast X-ray. This is an imaging test that enables the doctor to have a better view of the lump and hence determine the nature and possible cause of the lump.
- Computed Tomography (CT scan): In this test, computed tomography (CT scanner) is used to take multiple X-rays around in the breast tissue. A computer then compiles the X-rays into images. The doctor studies the image to determine the nature and cause of the lump.
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI scan): In this test, a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner creates detailed images of the breast tissue using a high-powered magnet. The doctor then studies the images to determine the problem in your breast.
- Complete Blood Count (CBC): This is a test that determines whether there is an increase or decrees of your blood count (red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets). The results obtained from this test can then be used to determine certain disorders that may be affecting your breast health.
Breast Lump Treatment
Doctors use various treatment procedures to treat breast lumps. This depends on the cause of the lumps, their severity or the stage in case of cancer. The procedures may include the following:
- Fibrocystic breast changes: This condition does not require any treatment. However, your doctor may recommend helpful remedies to help relieve monthly symptoms such as tenderness or pain.
- Breast Cysts: Occasionally, a cysts may go away on its own without any intervention. However, in case it is persistent, your doctor may use a small needle to suck out the fluid in the breast lump. This procedure is called fine needle aspiration. As a result, the cyst will collapse and disappear.
- Breast abscess: Doctors treat breast abscess or boils using antibiotics. Sometimes it might be necessary to surgically drain the abscess for faster healing.
- Fibroadenomas and intraductal papillomas: Doctors usually treat this condition by surgical removal of the lumps from the breast.
- Fat Necrosis: Once your doctor definitively diagnoses a fat necrosis, you do not need any treatment. However, your doctor may remove it through a minor surgery in case it is bothering you.
- Breast cancer Lumps: Common treatments include immunotherapy, targeted therapy, chemotherapy, excision surgery, laser surgery, and radiation therapy. Your doctor will choose the appropriate procedure for your treatment. This usually depends on the breast cancer stage.
Breast Lump Removal
Your doctor may decide to remove a lump in your breast surgically. This may be necessary especially if the lump is it is cancerous. It may also be necessary to remove a non-cancerous lump if is large and/or causes discomfort.
With various measures, you can keep your breasts healthy. These measures include preventing and managing breast lumps and breast cancer. The Best breast care practices in this regard may include the following:
- Visit your doctor for a breast exam, which usually includes palpating (feels your breast tissue for changes). This should begin at age 20, and continue consistently after every 1-3 years. This is a recommendation by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
- Start getting mammograms as you get older. American Cancer Society recommends annual mammograms starting at age 45. However, other suggestions indicate that it can start as early as at age 40. You can talk to your doctor to decide the best time to start
- Regular breast Self-examination may also help. However, but this should not replace professional exams but rather complement it.
When to See a Doctor
Since a lump in breast may be a sign of breast cancer, you should see you doctor immediately you notice any lumpy lesion in your breast tissue. The best practice with breast lumps is to first rule out breast cancer through diagnosis.
Sources and References
[showhide type=”links” more_text=”Show Sources and References” less_text=”Hide Sources and References”]
- What are breast lumps? https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/186084.php
- Benign Breast Lumps: https://www.webmd.com/breast-cancer/benign-breast-lumps#1
- Breast Lumps In Women: https://www.medicinenet.com/breast_lumps_in_women/article.htm
- Different Kinds of Breast Lumps: https://cancer.stonybrookmedicine.edu/breast-cancer-team/patients/bse/breastlumps
- Clogged milk ducts: https://www.babycenter.com/0_clogged-milk-ducts_8494.bc
- Breast Cellulitis: https://www.ecellulitis.com/breast-cellulitis/
- Fat necrosis: https://www.breastcancercare.org.uk/information-support/have-i-got-breast-cancer/breast-pain-other-benign-conditions/fat-necrosis
- Signs and symptoms of breast lumps explained: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/186087.php
- Is This Underarm Lump Serious?: Five Ways to Tell: https://www.healthcentral.com/article/is-this-underarm-lump-serious-five-ways-to-tell
- Breast Cancer Symptoms: What You Need to Know: https://www.cancer.org/latest-news/breast-cancer-symptoms-what-you-need-to-know.html [/showhide]