Breast Lump Symptoms, Causes & Common Questions

Understand your breast lump symptoms, including 7 causes & common questions.

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Contents

  1. Symptoms
  2. Causes
  3. 7 Possible Breast Lump Conditions
  4. Treatments and Relief
  5. FAQs
  6. Questions Your Doctor May Ask
  7. Statistics
  8. Related Articles
  9. References

Breast Lump Symptoms

It's unlikely that anyone wants to describe something in their body as a "lump," however, lumps in the breast are common and are not necessarily dangerous. Healthy breast tissue is naturally lumpy because if contains ducts and tissue designed for milk production. You shouldn't be concerned if both breasts have the same degree of "lumpiness" [2]. It is only concerning when you find a lump that seems out of place or different than the surrounding tissue. Breast lumps in women are usually due to the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, lactation (nursing), or aging [1]. Occasionally, lumps are caused by infection or injury.

The following descriptions are very general. There can be variations in every breast lump, and anything you feel uncertain about should be examined by your physician.

Common characteristics of benign breast lumps

Benign breast lumps are most often described as the following.

  • Fairly soft, smooth, and rounded
  • Easily moveable
  • Found either in the breast itself or in the armpit
  • Sore or painful if touched or pressed
  • Found in both breasts

Common characteristics of suspicious breast lumps

A more suspicious breast lump will be:

  • Small and firm, like the tip of your nose
  • Painless when touched or pressed
  • Found in the breast itself or in the armpit
  • Most often found in only one breast

Duration of symptoms

Your breast lump symptoms may be temporary or persistent, depending on the cause.

  • Cyclical: Some lumps may come and go related to the menstrual cycle [3].
  • Temporary: Some lumps are temporary and connected to trauma, infection, or certain medications.
  • Persistent: Others breast lumps may appear for no apparent reason and remain.

Who is most often affected?

The following people are more likely to be affected by breast lumps.

  • Fibroadenomas in women under 40: Fibroadenomas are benign, rubbery, easily moveable masses consisting of breast tissue and fibrous connective tissue [4].
  • Cysts in women over 40: Cysts are benign fluid-filled sacs in the breast [5].

Are breast lumps serious?

The severity of your breast lump will ultimately be determined by the cause.

  • Not serious: All breasts have some degree of lumpiness and fibrous tissue in them, which is normal.
  • Possibly serious: Any unexplained lump is more concerning, though most turn out to be benign.
  • More serious: Painless lumps that appear only on one breast, or in or near one armpit, should be investigated further.

Breast Lump Causes

The following details may help you better understand your symptoms. If your breast lump does not go away, grows in size, becomes painful, or otherwise causes you distress, you should see a physician.

Hormonal changes

Because breast tissue is sensitive to female hormones, lumps may become more evident during certain points in a woman's life.

  • Menstrual cycle: Movable, rubbery lumps in the milk ducts and surrounding tissue are sometimes more evident at various points in the menstrual cycle, due to the varying levels of hormones.
  • Pregnancy: The breasts will often feel lumpy during pregnancy because they are enlarging in preparation for breastfeeding.
  • During breastfeeding: The milk ducts and milk-producing tissue are both enlarged and constantly changing during lactation and may feel different from hour to hour, depending on how much milk is in the breast.
  • Pre-menopause and menopause: The wide variations in hormone levels as the body adjusts to menopause can cause the breasts to become more dense and fibrous and somewhat more lumpy and tender.

Infectious causes

A bacterial infection of the milk duct is not uncommon in a breastfeeding mother. It will cause the breast to look and feel hot, lumpy, reddened, and painful [6]. These lumps are caused by infection and not by any sort of tumor (benign or suspicious).

Traumatic causes

Any physical damage to the breast tissue may result in scar tissue that will probably feel like a lump. The trauma may be due to any sort of injury, accidental or otherwise, or surgery.

Medications and supplements

Certain types of medications and supplements are known to cause benign lumps in the breast.

  • Birth control pills
  • Hormone replacement therapy: These are given to some menopausal women to ease hot flashes and other symptoms.
  • Soy products and supplements: These can be purchased over-the-counter and are helpful to some menopausal women for other symptoms but may result in breast lumps.
  • Caffeine: Some women report an improvement in breast lumps and fibrous changes if they eliminate caffeine from their diet.

Cancerous causes

Only about 20 percent of suspicious breast lumps prove to be cancerous, but any lump you are uncertain about can easily be examined with a mammogram, ultrasound, or biopsy [7].

7 Possible Breast Lump Conditions

The list below shows results from the use of our quiz by Buoy users who experienced breast lump. This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

Fibroadenoma

A fibroadenoma is a benign (non-cancerous) breast tumor. It is the most common kind of breast tumor in young women. Fibroadenomas result from overgrown cells forming a mass (-oma) of breast tissue including fibrous (fibro-) and glandular (-adeno-) components.

Some fibroadenomas remain unnoticed unti...

Read more

Breast cyst

A breast cyst is a fluid-filled sac (like a tiny balloon) inside the breast. Breast cysts are common in women. They might cause a little pain, but they are usually benign (not cancerous).

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: breast pain, breast lump, painful breast lump, movable breast lump

Symptoms that always occur with breast cyst: breast lump

Symptoms that never occur with breast cyst: armpit lump, fever

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Fibrocystic breast changes

Fibrocystic change is a generalized term used to describe a variety of benign changes in the breast. Symptoms of this condition are breast swelling or pain, as well as nodules, lumpiness, or nipple discharge.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: breast lump, hard breast lump, nipple discharge, rope-like breast lump

Symptoms that always occur with fibrocystic breast changes: breast lump

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Breast Lump Symptom Checker

Take a quiz to find out what might be causing your breast lump

Breast cancer

There are several types of breast cancer, depending on the part of the breast where it starts. The most common types are ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), invasive ductal carcinoma and invasive lobular carcinoma.

Women over age 50 with a family history of the disease, and/or certain genetic factors, are most at risk, but anyone can get breast cancer at any age. It is rare in men but does occur.

Symptoms include a lump, thickening, or pain anywhere in the breast or armpit; red, flaky, or irritated breast or nipple skin; nipple discharge; and any area of irregular skin or misshapenness.

Many harmless conditions can cause similar signs, so it is important to see a medical provider about any of these symptoms.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination; imaging such as ultrasound, mammogram, or MRI; and sometimes biopsy.

Treatment involves a combination of surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.

The best prevention is a combination of screening mammograms as recommended by the medical provider, and monthly self-examination.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: breast pain, armpit lump, breast mass or retraction, breast lump, nipple discharge

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Breast abscess

A breast abscess is a collection of infected fluid, or pus, within the breast that is generally painful, and may cause fever, chills, fatigue, and body aches.

A breast abscess is a complication of mastitis, an infection of the breast tissue, that develops most commonly in breastfeeding women. ...

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Intraductal papilloma

Breast problems such as lumps are very common and often not caused by breast cancer. An intraductal papilloma is such a benign breast lump situated in the milk ducts.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: breast lump, painful breast lump, painless breast lump, white or clear fluid leaking from the breast, nipple lump

Symptoms that never occur with intraductal papilloma: armpit lump

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Plugged breast duct

If you're making milk faster than it's getting expressed, it can get backed up in the duct. When this happens, the tissue around the duct may become swollen and inflamed and press on the duct, causing a blockage.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: breast pain, breast lump, painful breast lump

Symptoms that never occur with plugged breast duct: fever, breast redness

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Breast Lump Treatments and Relief

At-home treatments

Perform a breast self-examination every month [8]. There are good instructions available on many websites, or you can ask for a pamphlet from your physician's office.

When to see a doctor

You should schedule an appointment to see your doctor for the following. Together, you can decide what the best treatment plan is for you by determining the cause.

  • A firm, painless lump anywhere in the breast or underarm area: This is the most concerning type.
  • Any other kind of unexplained lump or thickening in the breast or underarm

When it is an emergency

Seek immediate breast lump treatment in the emergency room or call 911 if you are breastfeeding and develop reddened, lumpy, painful breasts along with fever and if you are feeling ill in general. This is an infection of a milk duct and requires antibiotics right away.

FAQs About Breast Lump

Here are some frequently asked questions about breast lumps.

Why does the lump in my breast hurt?

A painful breast lump can be caused by many conditions. Some breast discomfort can be caused by hormonal changes during the menstrual period as differing amounts of estrogen and progesterone cause the ducts of the breast to grow and atrophy. Breast pain can also be non-cyclical and can be caused by large breasts, hormone replacement therapy, growth of breast ducts (ductal ectasia), and infection of the breast caused by breastfeeding.

What kind of breast lumps are normal?

Benign breast lumps include fibroadenomas (rubbery masses that can be moved around), cysts (fluid-filled masses), fibrocystic changes (breast inflammation and swelling associated with menses), galactocele (milk-retention cyst), and fat necrosis (a benign condition caused by trauma to fat).

Why do my breast lumps move?

Breast lumps may be mobile or move if they are touched. This ability to be rolled or moved is often associated with benign breast masses. Breast lumps that are stationary or fixed to the underlying muscle are likely to be malignant.

Can a benign breast lump turn into cancer?

Yes, it is rare but a benign breast lump can become cancerous. For example, a fibroadenoma is fat-based cancer. A small fraction of fibroadenomas are actually phyllodes tumors — a separate, benign type of tumor that is extremely slow-growing. A small portion of phyllodes tumors can be cystosarcoma phyllodes — a rare malignant tumor.

Why do I notice breast lumps around the time of my period?

Fibrocystic changes of the breast are the medical term used for breast changes that may or may not be moderately painful and occur in sync with the menstrual cycle. They can occur on one breast or both breasts and can be affected by the hormones in birth control pills. Usually, they involve a mildly tender area in one or both breasts that tends to grow and recede in time with the menses.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Breast Lump

To diagnose this condition, your doctor would likely ask the following questions:

  • Please say more about the lump on your breast. Do you feel pain when you touch the lump?
  • Do you currently use estrogen as a hormone replacement therapy?
  • Tell me more about the lump on your breast. When rubbing your lump, can you move the lump slightly from side-to-side?
  • Please indicate where the lump is located on your breast.

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions

Please take a quiz to find out what might be causing your breast lump. These questions are also covered.

Breast Lump Quiz

Breast Lump Symptom Checker Statistics

People who have experienced breast lump have also experienced:

  • 13% Breast Pain
  • 3% Nipple Discharge
  • 3% Fatigue

People who have experienced breast lump were most often matched with:

  • 33% Fibroadenoma
  • 33% Breast Cyst
  • 33% Fibrocystic Breast Changes

People who have experienced breast lump had symptoms persist for:

  • 43% Over a month
  • 21% Less than a week
  • 12% Less than a day

Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from Buoy Assistant (a.k.a. the quiz).

Breast Lump Symptom Checker

Take a quiz to find out what might be causing your breast lump

References

  1. Breast Lump. U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Updated Jan. 7, 2019. MedlinePlus Link
  2. Breast Anatomy and How Cancer Starts. National Breast Cancer Foundation. National Breast Cancer Foundation Link
  3. Breast Changes and Conditions. National Institutes of Health: National Cancer Institute. NCI Link
  4. Nigro DM, Organ CH. Fibroadenoma of the female breast. Some epidemiologic surprises. Postgrad Med. 1976;59(5):113-7. PubMed Link
  5. Fibrosis and Simple Cysts in the Breast. American Cancer Society. Updated Sept. 20, 2017. American Cancer Society Link
  6. Boakes E, Woods A, Johnson N, Kadoglou N. Breast Infection: A Review of Diagnosis and Management Practices. Eur J Breast Health. 2018;14(3):136-143. Published July 1, 2018. NCBI Link
  7. Breast Biopsy. Johns Hopkins Medicine Health Library. Johns Hopkins Medicine Link
  8. Breast Self-Exam. National Breast Cancer Foundation. National Breast Cancer Foundation Link