Breast Lump - Causes | Types | Symptoms | Evaluation | Treatment
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Breast Lump - Causes, Types, Symptoms, Evaluation and Treatment

Published on Jul 04, 2022 and last reviewed on Mar 13, 2023   -  5 min read


A breast lump is a soft tissue mass and non-cancerous. It varies in size and texture. A breast lump can be found by women by self-examination or by health care providers during a self-examination.

Breast Lump - Causes, Types, Symptoms, Evaluation and Treatment


A breast lump is a growth of mass in the breast, which is hard, palpable, and varies in texture when compared to surrounding healthy tissues. Hence, it is possible to locate it by self-examination. Men and women both tend to develop a breast lump, though it is rare in men. Most frequently, breast lump appears in women between the age of 15 and 35. Lumps developing at a younger age often vanish at the end of the menstrual (periods) cycle.

What Are Breast Lumps?

Breast lumps are benign tumors that are not cancerous. Breast tissue naturally has a bumpy texture. Few women have lumpier breasts which are normal. When lumps become harder, slightly different from the rest of the surrounding tissue, it is suggested to undergo examination. Men rarely develop breast lumps. Young boys and girls (till the age of 10) have a small amount of breast tissue that changes at puberty. Due to low levels of female hormones, young boys and men do not develop breast tissue any further.

What Are the Causes of Breast Lumps?

Males who develop breast lumps may be due to:

  • Hormonal treatments.

  • Use of testosterone.

  • History of orchitis (inflammation of one or more testicles due to bacterial or viral infection).

  • Klinefelter syndrome: It is a congenital syndrome that affects X chromosomes in males. The growth of testicles is adversely affected hence resulting in lower testosterone.

How Many Types of Breast Lumps Are There?

1. Fibroadenoma: These are the most common breast lumps occurring in young women. They are benign, which means they rarely tend to develop into cancer. It is often felt like a smooth lump that easily moves under the skin. Fibroadenomas are generally painless but may become painful during the menstrual cycle. There are three types of fibroadenoma:

  • Simple adenoma.

  • Complex adenoma.

  • Giant or juvenile adenoma.

2. Breast Cysts: These are commonly found in the pediatric population. Breast cysts are fluid-filled sacs and are benign. Changes in hormones cause changes in breasts. These are called fibrocystic breast changes. The lumps that develop due to these fibrocystic changes are harder and rubbery. Breast cysts are usually solitary, small, or large.

3. Intraductal Papillomas: Occurs in women between the age of 30 and 50 years.They can cause bleeding from the nipple.

4. Traumatic Fat Necrosis: This happens in women with a history of injury to the breast. These lumps are round and hard when palpated. They are painless and solitary (single).

What Are the Symptoms of a Breast Lump?

  • New lump in the breast.

  • Change in the size and shape of the breast.

  • Flaky skin.

  • Irritation of the overlying skin.

  • Nipple discharge.

How Are Breast Lumps Diagnosed?

Breast lumps are usually benign. But, to rule out malignancy, a thorough and careful evaluation is necessary. The triple assessment method is used to arrive at a diagnosis. Triple assessment methods include:

  • Physical examination.

  • Radiological examination.

  • Pathological examination.

What to Expect While Evaluating the Lump?

Physical Examination:

It includes a complete examination of both breasts (complete breast examination-CBE), axillae, and regional lymph nodes. Breast lumps are physically and clinically evaluated for any changes in the size of breasts, change in color of overlying skin, or any obvious swelling, inflammation, and rashes. The doctor palpates the lump by asking the patient to raise an arm and assesses superficial, intermediate, and deep tissue planes. The doctor also palpates the neck, above the clavicle region, and axillae to locate any other masses if present. Digital palpation with fingertips is an effective way to detect any masses and if they are benign and malignant to an extent.

Radiological Examination:

1. Mammography: A mammogram uses X-rays of low dosage to examine breasts, which gives out a picture of the insides.

2. Ultrasound: This scan is used to determine if the mass is solid or filled with liquid. Ultrasound uses sound waves to capture pictures of the insides.

3. MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging): MRIs are highly sensitive, and they cannot detect lumps smaller than 3 mm. MRIs are potentially useful in patients with silicone breast implants and in patients who cannot rely on diagnosis through ultrasound and mammography, i.e., patients with a history of breast-conserving surgery. MRI has an additional advantage of differentiating benign and malignant lesions.

Imaging reports are analyzed by a standard tool called Breast Imaging Reporting and Data System (BIRADS). This system helps to determine the structure of the mass, presence, and location of the lump, density, calcifications, and any other associated features. This system is graded from one to six.

Pathological Examination:

The pathological examination involves tissue studies. Tissues of the lump are studied under a microscope. Tissue is taken from the mass through “biopsy.” There are different types of biopsies:

  1. Fine Needle Aspiration Biopsy: FNA uses a fine needle to aspirate the fluid from the lump, and the tissue sample is studied under a microscope for further assessment.
  2. Core Needle Biopsy: This biopsy uses a wider needle to collect the specimen. It is performed under local anesthesia to allow painless procedures for the patient. Core needle biopsy is used to identify the presence of biomarkers. The presence of biomarkers indicates the malignant nature of the lump.
  3. Surgical Biopsy: This biopsy is performed to remove larger amounts of tissue. Surgical biopsy is diagnostic and therapeutic. It is considered therapeutic when an entire mass is removed, leaving healthy margins wherein surgery is not required further. A surgical biopsy may be performed under local or general anesthesia.
  4. Image-Guided Biopsy: When a needle is inserted into the tumor tissue under the guidance of a Magnetic Resonance Imaging, ultrasound, or mammogram, it is called an image-guided biopsy.

What Is the Treatment for Breast Lump?

  1. Surgical Removal: The lump is removed through a surgical procedure known as lumpectomy, also referred to as an excisional biopsy. Depending on the size of the lump, it can be done under local or general anesthesia.
  2. Antibiotics: When the lump is infected and painful, the doctor prescribes antibiotics to reduce the infection.
  3. Drainage: Fluid-filled lumps are treated by draining the fluid from the mass. Often, following drainage, lumps disappear.
  4. Cancerous Lesions: Breast lumps are mostly non-cancerous. When the lumps are diagnosed to be cancerous, mastectomy, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy are used as treatment modalities.

What Is the Prognosis of Breast Lump?

The prognosis of breast lumps is multifactorial. Often breast lumps disappear following drainage and surgical removal. Though it is non-cancerous, post-menopausal women are at high risk for the recurrence of breast lumps.


Patients with hormonal imbalance must pay regular visits to the doctor. Being aware of any changes happening to the breast helps in the early evaluation of the mass. There is no need to panic. Breast lumps are not life-threatening. Regular health check-ups help in evaluating any changes occurring in the body.

Frequently Asked Questions


What Are the Symptoms of a Breast Lump?

A breast lump can be single or multiple. The main characteristics of a breast lump are as follows:
- Smooth and round mass in the breast.
- Lumps are usually mobile.
- Tenderness over the area of a breast mass.
- The size and pain of breast lumps increase before menstruation and decrease after it.


What Causes a Breast Lump?

The factors responsible for causing a breast lump are given below:
- Hormonal changes.
- Infection of breast tissue can lead to a breast lump.
- Late pregnancy.
- Fibrocystic changes.
- Oral contraceptives.
- Late menopause.
- Breast cancer.


What Are the Features of a Cancerous Lump?

The features that denote a lump is cancerous are:
- Hard and immovable mass.
- Irregularly shaped mass.
- The skin over the breast lump may look pitted or flaky.
- Change in breast size and shape.
- Unusual discharge from the nipple.
- Mostly painless on touch.


Which Lumps in Breasts Are Considered Normal?

Some women may panic after feeling a lump in their breasts. It is essential to get medical advice about a breast lump, but there is no need to worry much, as many breast lumps are benign (non-cancerous). The features that signify a breast lump is normal are:
- Dense breast tissue.
- Smooth edges.
- Mostly present in both breasts.
- Slightly movable mass.


Is It Normal to Have a Breast Lump?

A breast lump may commonly occur in women, especially in young adults. But most probably, the lump can be benign, and research shows that about 60 to 80 % of lumps are benign. However, it may occur due to:
- Fat necrosis.
- Fluid-filled cyst in breast.
- Hormonal changes, etc.
But it is essential to visit a gynecologist to know if the breast lump is benign or cancerous and to get it treated.


Which Breast Lumps Should You Worry About?

Certain features of the breast should be noted and require immediate consultation with a gynecologist to prevent complications. Such features include:
- Change in breast shape or size.
- Inverted nipple.
- Itchy, red, or flaky skin over the lump.
- Lump that increases in size.


How to Know Whether a Lump Is a Cyst?

The breast cyst may possess similar features to a lump:
- Smooth edges.
- Movable round lump.
- Breast tenderness, etc.
However, cysts are usually fluid-filled, and they are non-cancerous. In addition, they do not require any treatment. Therefore, a specialist might order an ultrasound to differentiate a breast cyst from a lump.


Are Breast Lumps Serious?

In most cases, breast lumps are not severe. Therefore, they do not cause any complications; however, looking after changes in breast size, shape, appearance, or discharge is crucial. In case of any visible changes, consult a specialist to get it diagnosed. After examining the lump, the doctor may order an imaging test such as a mammogram, ultrasound, etc., to confirm the diagnosis. Based on the diagnosis, the breast is treated.


Does a Breast Lump Disappear After a Period?

A breast lump may form in some women due to hormonal changes just before the menstrual cycle. In such cases, the breast tissue becomes thickened and forms dense-like tissue. However, these lumps may disappear or shrink in size once the period is over. Therefore, it is essential to note when the lump forms and resolves. The pain due to the lump also decreases during the end of periods. They are usually benign, but it is necessary to visit a specialist for the proper diagnosis.


Is It Possible to Remove a Breast Lump Without Surgery?

The breast lumps caused due to hormonal changes may resolve on their own. However, other benign lumps may require treatment to prevent unnecessary complications. Other than surgical treatment, the following options are available to treat a breast lump:
- Oral contraceptives may be suggested to regulate the menstrual cycle, which helps in decreasing the recurrence of breast cysts.
- Cryoablation - The breast lump is frozen and destroyed.
- Fine-needle aspiration - Removing the fluid from the breast cyst through aspiration also shrinks its size.


Do Breast Lumps Recur After Surgery?

Breast lumps are usually treated with an incision, drainage, or surgical removal. The doctor may use local or general anesthesia during the surgical procedure, depending on the size of a breast lump. Mostly, the lumps do not recur after their removal. The recurrence rate is high after other treatments such as incision and drainage. However, the recurrence of breast lumps after surgical removal is high in postmenopausal women.


What Happens After a Breast Lump Removal?

The doctor may plan to remove the lump based on its size and other features. However, surgery has several risks, such as bleeding, infection, improper wound healing, etc. But, a breast lump is removed chiefly successfully, and recovery occurs in less time. Like other surgical removals, lumpectomy does not necessitate a reconstructive procedure. Mild pain and skin bruising may last for two to three days. However, it takes a few weeks for recovery, and the post-instruction should be followed to prevent complications.


Do Breast Lumps Hurt?

In most cases, breast lumps do not cause any pain. But, a sign of pain should never be ignored. In addition, a few breast lumps may be painful before the start of menstruation. Studies show that fibrocystic lumps also cause pain or tenderness. Therefore, visit a specialist to know the exact cause of breast pain, which can be identified through medical history, physical examination, and other imaging methods.

Last reviewed at:
13 Mar 2023  -  5 min read




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