What are breast lumps?

Breast lumps are any bumps, knots, bulges or specific areas of swelling in your breast tissue. Lumps may feel different than other areas of the breast and can have a variety of textures—soft, hard, rope-like, round or irregular. Many different breast conditions cause them.

While a breast lump can be a sign of breast cancer, rest assured that most nodes aren’t harmful and may not require any treatment at all. If you feel a lump in your breast, our team is here to help guide your next steps.

Breast lump symptoms

The symptoms you may experience with a breast lump differ based on what’s causing the swelling. You may have other symptoms along with a breast lump, like pain or tenderness. Or there could be no other symptoms at all.

By paying attention to your breast symptoms, including breast lumps, you can take steps to protect your breast health.

Sometimes, breast lumps are a part of natural changes or texture in the breast tissue. These breast lumps may be normal for you and accompany your menstrual cycle. However, any new, persistent breast lump should be checked by your doctor, especially if you are having other symptoms.

When to see a doctor for a breast lump

Schedule a visit with your doctor if you notice:

  • A lump in your breast or your underarm area
  • Any lump that’s getting larger, worsening or one that doesn’t resolve with your monthly cycle
  • Changes to your nipple, such as discharge or a nipple that inverts
  • Changes to the skin on your breast, like redness, texture changes, bruising or dimpling
  • Breast pain
  • Changes in the size or shape of one of your breasts

Causes of breast lumps

Breast lumps are caused by several breast conditions—from cyclical breast changes to cysts to harmless growths. Understanding the source of your breast lump is important because it’s the first step to helping you get the care you need. If you’ve noticed a lump in your breast, your doctor may want to do an exam or other tests to help figure out what’s causing it. While a breast lump is one of the most commonly known breast cancer signs, usually, cancer isn’t the cause when you feel lumps in the breast. Of those breast lumps sent for a biopsy, about 80% come back as benign or not cancer. Here are some of the other, more common reasons for breast lumps.

Fibroadenomas

Fibroadenomas are made up of an overgrowth of breast tissue that creates a harmless mass in the breast. They may feel rubbery or solid and move when you press on them. They are especially common in younger women and usually don’t need treatment.

Fibrocystic changes

Fibrocystic changes in the breast are normal changes that make the breasts lumpy. These changes include small fluid-filled cysts and fibrous tissue that cause a ropy texture or a rubbery lump. Most fibrocystic breast disease symptoms follow your monthly cycle and become more noticeable a week or so before you start your period.

Cysts

Fluid-filled cysts can form in several places in your body, including in the breast. For example, a breast cyst may form when fluid builds up in a milk duct. You may have some pain or tenderness with a cyst, while others may not cause any discomfort. Breast cysts are more common before menopause.

Intraductal papillomas

Intraductal papillomas are non-cancerous wart-like growths inside the breast. The term intraductal means they form in the milk ducts of the breast. These lumps may cause other symptoms, such as nipple bleeding, and are more common before menopause.

Injuries and infections 

Both injuries and infections can affect your breast tissue and cause lumps. When the breast tissue is injured due to trauma, it can lead to traumatic fat necrosis, which creates hard lumps of scar tissue. Lumps caused by an infection, called mastitis or abscess, are typically painful and inflamed, and may come with other symptoms like fever.

Breast cancer

Several types of breast cancer cause a lump in the breast. While most lumps don’t turn out to be cancer, getting lumps checked and routine screenings like mammograms help you catch any signs of breast cancer and give you peace of mind about your breast health.

Breast lumps in males

Because males have a small amount of breast tissue, they may also develop breast lumps from various conditions. One of the most common causes of breast lumps in males is gynecomastia. This enlargement of the breast tissue can feel like a lump under the nipple. Usually, gynecomastia is linked to natural changes, medications or conditions that affect the hormones in your body.

While rare, another condition that causes breast lumps in males is male breast cancer. Some people are more at risk for male breast cancer due to factors like family history. Because a lump could be a sign of cancer, it’s important to get any breast lumps checked by your doctor.

Diagnosing breast lumps

To help diagnose the cause of your breast lump, your care team will listen to your symptoms, review your health history, ask about your family history and perform a clinical breast exam. During a breast exam, your provider will examine the breast tissue, the area under your arms and lymph nodes in your neck.

For some people with a lump, a breast exam is all that is needed to diagnose a breast condition—such as fibrocystic changes or infection. However, your doctor may order additional tests to help get more information about your breast health or to provide a look at the lump in more detail.

Mammogram

A mammogram is one of the main imaging tests to look closely at a breast lump. This quick test uses X-rays to create images of the breast tissue. If you have a lump, you’ll have a diagnostic mammogram. The process is similar to an annual screening mammogram, but the images help decide if other tests are needed for your breast lump.

Ultrasound

A breast ultrasound uses sound waves to give your team images of a specific breast area when you have a lump. You may have an ultrasound and a mammogram to examine the swelling. This imaging test is also sometimes used in people with dense breast tissue because some lumps can be hard to see on a mammogram.

Breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

Breast MRI uses magnets and radio waves to create detailed pictures. During the procedure, you’ll lie face down and may have a dye, called contrast, injected to help make the images. Most of the time, breast MRIs are used as a follow-up after you’ve had a mammogram to look at the lump.

Needle aspiration

If your doctor thinks a cyst causes your lump, needle aspiration can help diagnose your condition. During this procedure, your provider will guide a small needle into the lump and try to pull out the fluid. This fluid may then be sent to the lab for testing. If the lump is a cyst, removing the fluid through needle aspiration can treat and diagnose it. Most cysts do not need aspiration.

Biopsy

Usually, you’ll have a breast biopsy for a lump only after you’ve had other tests, like a mammogram. During a biopsy, your care team will use one of several methods to sample the lump. Using this sample, a lab can examine the cells and diagnose conditions like cancer, but remember that most breast biopsies aren’t positive for cancer.

Breast lump treatment

There is a wide range of treatment options for a lump in the breast—from at-home care to medications to surgical procedures. Treatments are targeted to your specific breast health needs. Some harmless breast conditions that don’t cause pain or other symptoms don’t need any care. Once your care team knows the cause of your breast lump, they’ll work with you to develop a personalized treatment plan to get the right care for you.

If you’re diagnosed with breast cancer, our team is here for you every step of the way through diagnosis, breast cancer treatment and survivorship. The sooner breast cancer is detected, the more treatment options you have. That’s why getting checked is so important if you notice a breast lump.

Some breast lump treatment options include:

  • At-home care to reduce discomfort due to fibrocystic changes
  • Prescription medications for a breast infection
  • Fine-needle aspiration to drain fluid from cysts
  • Lumpectomy to remove a cancerous growth or surgical excision of a non-cancerous growth
  • Chemotherapy or radiation for breast cancer
  • Mastectomy for breast cancer, which removes the entire breast

Our breast imaging centers near you

We offer several locations for your care, including women’s imaging centers in North and Central Texas that specialize in tests to help diagnose the cause of a breast lump.

Frequently asked questions

  • Are breast lumps painful?

    Sometimes. Breast lumps can be painful, but not always. Breast lumps caused by conditions like a cyst or infection are often painful or tender. Other lumps, like those caused by breast cancer or a harmless growth, may not cause any pain at all.

  • Are breast lumps normal?

    It depends. Some types of breast lumps are normal. More than half of people with breasts have normal fibrocystic changes that make the breasts feel lumpy. However, if you have a new lump that persists or other symptoms, that’s not normal. Visit your doctor to get checked.

  • Are breast lumps hard?

    Not every breast lump is hard, but some can be. Depending on the cause, your breast lump can feel movable and soft instead of hard. While breast lumps caused by breast cancer tend to be firm, many other conditions can also cause lumps that feel hard.

  • What does a breast lump feel like?

    Breast lumps feel different depending on what’s causing the swelling. Lumps that aren’t caused by cancer may feel smooth and can be tender when you touch them or move around when pressed. A lump caused by breast cancer often feels hard and may not cause pain.

  • What kind of doctor should I see for a breast lump?

    Start with a visit to your OBGYN or primary care provider when you have a breast lump. Your doctor can examine the node and decide your next steps. You may see other doctors, such as a breast surgeon, if you need additional care.