A breast lump is a growth of tissue that develops within your breast. A breast lump is often interchangeably described as a mass, swelling, thickness or fullness.
A breast lump can feel distinct and have definite borders, or it could feel more like a general area of thickened tissue in your breast. You may notice other breast changes accompanying a breast lump, such as skin redness, distension, dimpling or pitting; breast asymmetry; breast pain; nipple inversion; or unusual nipple discharge.
Sometimes, a breast lump is a sign of breast cancer. That's why your doctor should promptly evaluate any breast lump you find. Fortunately, most breast lumps result from noncancerous (benign) conditions.
Breast lump causes:
• Breast cancer
• Breast cysts
• Fibrocystic breasts
• Injury or trauma to the breast
• Intraductal papilloma
• Milk cyst (galactocele)
Breast cancer is cancer that forms in the cells of the breasts. Breast cancer can occur in both men and women, but it's far more common in women.
After skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in women in the United States. But breast cancer rates have fallen in recent years, though doctors aren't certain why. Still, for many women, breast cancer is the disease they fear most.
Public support for breast cancer awareness and research funding has helped improve the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer. Breast cancer survival rates have increased and the number of deaths has been declining, thanks to earlier detection, new treatments and a better understanding of the disease.
Breast cysts are fluid-filled sacs within your breast. You can have one or many breast cysts. They're often described as round or oval lumps with distinct edges. In texture, a breast cyst usually feels like a soft grape or a water-filled balloon, but sometimes a breast cyst feels firm.
Breast cysts are common in women in their 30s and 40s. If you have breast cysts, they usually disappear after menopause, unless you're taking hormone therapy.
Breast cysts don't require treatment unless a cyst is large and painful or otherwise uncomfortable. In that case, draining the fluid from a breast cyst can ease your symptoms.
Signs and symptoms of breast cysts include:
• A smooth, easily movable round or oval breast lump with distinct edges
• Breast pain or tenderness in the area of the lump
• Increased lump size and tenderness just before your period
• Decreased lump size and resolution of other signs and symptoms after your period
Having one or many simple breast cysts doesn't increase your risk of breast cancer.
Fibroadenomas (fi-bro-ad-uh-NO-muhz) are solid, noncancerous tumors that often occur in women during their reproductive years. A fibroadenoma is a firm, smooth, rubbery or hard lump with a well-defined shape. It moves easily under your skin when touched and is usually painless.
Fibroadenomas are more common among women in their 20s and 30s. Fibroadenomas are one of the most common breast lumps in premenopausal women. Fibroadenomas range in size from less than 1 centimeter to several centimeters in diameter. They can get bigger during pregnancy and breast-feeding.
Treatment may include careful monitoring to detect changes in the size or feel of the fibroadenoma or surgery to remove it.
Fibrocystic Breast Changes
Fibrocystic changes refers to an overgrowth of fibrous tissue (fibrosis) or the multiplication of cells in the breasts' supporting tissue. This can result in the formation of small breast cysts due to blocked ducts in the breast that normally drain secretions.
The condition is fairly common and is usually associated with hormonal changes due to menstruation as well as menopause.
Symptoms of fibrocystic changes can include the following:
• dull sensation or fullness in the upper sides of breasts
• fibrocystic areas that blend into surrounding tissue and move when pressed
• increased lumpiness and tenderness as menopause approaches
Treatment of fibrocystic changes in the breast can include the following:
• reducing caffeine intake
• wearing a more supportive bra
• over-the-counter pain reliever medications such as Advil and Tylenol
• oral contraceptives
• danazol (a synthetic testosterone hormone)
Speak to your doctor about appropriate treatment options and the potential side effects of taking any medication to treat fibrocystic changes that may cause serious discomfort in the breast.
A hamartoma is a benign, focal malformation that resembles a neoplasm in the tissue of its origin. This is not a malignant tumor, and it grows at the same rate as the surrounding tissues. It is composed of tissue elements normally found at that site, but which are growing in a disorganized mass. They occur in many different parts of the body and are most often asymptomatic and undetected unless seen on an image taken for another reason.
Injury or Trauma to the Breast
Fat Necrosis due to Trauma or Injury Fat necrosis may develop as a result of breast trauma or breast injury due to an accident or surgery. Your doctor may perform imaging tests such as a mammogram or ultrasound to ensure the breast lump is benign.
The following are symptoms of fat necrosis:
• scar tissue in the form of a breast lump that is firm, round, or movable
• a painless breast lump if the injury is old
• breast pain or bruising of the skin if injury is recent
If the breast mass persists and does not heal on its own, your doctor may recommend surgical removal.
Intraductal papilloma is a small, noncancerous growth in the milk duct and usually appears as a small lump behind or near the areola. Discharge from the nipple may also occur, and is usually bloody. Imaging tests are required to diagnose this breast condition, and treatment typically involves surgical removal followed by further analysis of the tissue for breast cancer
A lipoma is a slow-growing, fatty lump that's most often situated between your skin and the underlying muscle layer. Often a lipoma is easy to identify because it moves readily with slight finger pressure. It's doughy to touch and usually not tender. You may have more than one lipoma. Lipomas can occur at any age, but they're most often detected during middle age. A lipoma isn't cancer and is usually harmless. Treatment generally isn't necessary, but if the lipoma is in a location that bothers you, is painful or is growing, you may want to have it removed.
• Located just under your skin. They commonly occur in the neck, shoulders, back, abdomen, arms and thighs.
• Soft and doughy to the touch. They also move easily with slight finger pressure.
• Generally small. Lipomas are typically less than 2 inches (5 centimeters) in diameter, but they can grow larger.
• Sometimes painful. Lipomas can be painful if they grow and press on nearby nerves, or if they contain many blood vessels.
When to see a doctor
A lipoma is rarely a serious medical condition. But if you notice a lump or swelling anywhere on your body, have it checked by your doctor.
Mastitis is an infection of the breast tissue that causes pain, swelling and redness of the breast. Mastitis most commonly affects women who are breast-feeding, although in rare circumstances this condition can occur outside of lactation. Often, mastitis occurs within the first six weeks after birth (postpartum), but it can happen later during breast-feeding. The condition can leave you feeling exhausted and rundown, making it difficult to care for your baby. Sometimes mastitis leads a mother mistakenly to wean her baby before she intends to. But you can continue breast-feeding while you have mastitis.
With mastitis, signs and symptoms can appear suddenly and may include:
• Breast tenderness or warmth to the touch
• General malaise or feeling ill
• Swelling of the breast
• Pain or a burning sensation continuously or while breast-feeding
• Skin redness, often in a wedge-shaped pattern
• Fever of 101 F (38.3 C) or greater
Although mastitis usually occurs in the first several weeks of nursing, it can happen any time during breast-feeding. Mastitis tends to affect only one breast — not both breasts.
Milk Cyst (Galactocele)
A galactocele is a cystic tumor containing milk or a milky substance that is usually located in the mammary glands. It is caused by a protein plug that blocks off the outlet. Galactoceles are benign and are not a cause for concern. Once lactation has ended the cyst will resolve on its own without intervention. A galactocele does not cause infection as the milk within is sterile and has no outlet for which to become contaminated. Attempts to drain the cyst are unsuccessful because the protein plug remains intact and milk production continues.