Breast Lump

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What is breast lump?

A breast lump is a swelling, outgrowth, or protrusion in the breast. Both women and men have breast tissue. This normal tissue may respond to changes in hormone levels, leading to breast lumps. Lumps in the breast may come and go depending on hormone levels. Painless breast lumps can signal both benign (noncancerous) and malignant (cancerous) tumors of the breast. A new breast lump along with a lump under the armpit can be a sign of breast cancer that has reached a lymph node. Infection is another possible cause. A painful lump in the breast is most often associated with hormonal changes.

Breast lumps can occur at any age in women and men. In adult women, lumps are most often caused by changes in the breast tissue related to hormonal shifts. These are called fibrocystic changes. Fibroadenomas (a type of benign tumor), cysts, and damage to the fatty tissue are other reasons for breast lumps in adult women. Breast infection (mastitis) or a small growth in the milk duct (intraductal papilloma) can also result in a breast lump. The majority of breast lumps are benign, particularly in women under age 40.

Breast enlargement in men is called gynecomastia. This swelling of the breast tissue occurs most often in boys at mid-puberty. Tender lumps develop beneath one or both nipples in response to hormonal changes. These lumps generally disappear within a year.

Infants may experience a breast lump because of estrogen they received from the mother’s bloodstream. Once the estrogen clears from the infant’s body, the lump will usually go away. Right before puberty, young girls develop lumps called breast buds. This tissue may be temporarily tender as girls start the early stages of puberty.

In some instances, breast lumps can be associated with breast cancer. A painless but firm lump with irregular edges is a sign of a potentially cancerous breast lump.

Seek prompt medical care if your breast lump is persistent or causes you concern.

What other symptoms might occur with breast lump?

A breast lump(s) may accompany other symptoms, which will vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. A breast lump may or may not be painful; it may feel soft and movable or hard, solid and stationary. Breast lumps vary in size and number and may come and go with time.

Symptoms that may occur along with breast lump

Other symptoms that may accompany a breast lump include:

  • Dimpled appearance to the breast

  • Fever and other signs of breast infection, such as redness and swelling, and skin that is warm to touch

  • Painful breast lumps that coincide with menstruation

  • Nipple discharge, which may be white, clear, or tinged with blood

Symptoms that might indicate a serious condition

In some cases, breast lump occurs with other symptoms that might indicate a serious condition, such as breast cancer, that warrants prompt medical care. Seek prompt medical care if you, or someone you are with, have a breast lump along with other serious symptoms including:

  • Bone pain

  • Changes to the nipple including retraction or turning inward

  • Changes in skin appearance such as redness or ulcers

  • Lump in the armpit

  • Nipple discharge including blood and pus

  • Painless, firm lump with an irregular border

  • Unexpected changes in breast size

  • Unexplained weight loss

    What causes breast lump?

    Women and men have breast tissue that may respond to changes in hormone levels leading to breast lumps. The lumps may come and go depending on hormone levels. Breast lumps can occur at any age in women and men. The majority of breast lumps are benign, particularly in women under age 40. In women, lumps are most often caused by changes in the tissue related to hormonal shifts. These are called fibrocystic changes. Fibroadenomas, cysts, and damage to the fatty tissue are other reasons for breast lumps in adult women. In men, lumps may form because of a condition called gynecomastia.

    In some instances, breast lumps can be associated with breast cancer. A painless but firm lump with irregular edges is a sign of a potentially cancerous breast lump.

    Benign causes of breast lump

    A breast lump may be caused by noncancerous breast tissue disorders including:

    • Benign tumor of the breast (fibroadenoma)

    • Breast abscess

    • Breast infection (mastitis)

    • Fluid-filled sacs (cysts)

    • Gynecomastia (enlarged breasts in men)

    • Hormonal changes in breast tissue (fibrocystic changes). Fibrocystic breast disease is a common cause of painful lumps in breast tissue that typically appear in a cyclic pattern with your period. It does not require treatment, but doctors can treat severe cases with hormone-based birth control.

    • Small growth in the milk ducts (intraductal papilloma)

    Hormonal causes of a breast lump

    Breast lumps can also be caused by hormonal shifts including:

    • Excessive estrogen in infants

    • Mid-puberty hormonal changes in boys

    • Pre-puberty hormonal changes in girls

    Serious or life-threatening causes of a breast lump

    In some cases, breast lump may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that requires prompt medical attention. Mastitis and breast cancer are two potentially serious causes of a breast lump.

    Questions for diagnosing the cause of a breast lump

    To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed healthcare practitioner will ask you several questions related to your breast lump including:

    • When did you first notice the breast lump?

    • Is the lump firm or soft?

    • Do you have other symptoms, such as pain in the breast tissue?

    • Have you experienced any nipple discharge, such as blood or pus?

    • Have you noticed any changes in the skin of the breast?

    • Have you experienced unexplained weight loss?

    Depending on your symptoms and physical breast exam, your doctor may order a mammogram, breast ultrasound, or breast biopsy (or a combination of the three) to diagnose the cause.

      What are the potential complications of a breast lump?

      Breast lump can be associated with breast cancer. Because a breast lump can be due to breast cancer, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your healthcare professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:

      • Breast cancer

      • Breast deformity or misshapen breast

      • Spread of breast infection

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      Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
      Last Review Date: 2020 Aug 21
      THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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      2. Breast Biopsy. American Cancer Society. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer/screening-tests-and-early-detection/breast-biopsy.html
      3. Armpit lump. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/003099.htm
      4. Fibrocystic breast disease. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000912.htm
      5. Different Kinds of Breast Lumps. Stoney Brook Cancer Center, Carol M. Baldwin Breast Care Center. https://cancer.stonybrookmedicine.edu/breast-cancer-team/patients/bse/breastlumps