A breast lump is a localized swelling, protuberance, bulge, or bump in the breast that feels different from the breast tissue around it or the breast tissue in the same area of the other breast.

There are different reasons why breast lumps develop. Most lumps are not cancerous and do not pose any risk.

Causes include infection, trauma, fibroadenoma, cyst, fat necrosis, or fibrocystic breasts. Breast lumps may develop in both males and females, but they are much more common in females.

A person who detects a breast lump should have it evaluated as soon as possible.

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Breast lumps can result from a number of factors, and most are harmless.

The female breast consists of different types of tissue. The two main types are milk glands, where milk is made, and milk ducts, or tubes, for milk to pass through to reach the nipple.

Breast tissue composition can vary, depending on the function. For example, when a woman is breastfeeding, her breasts will change. They will feel and look different.

The breast also contains fibrous connective tissue, fatty tissue, nerves, blood vessels, and lymph nodes.

Each part of the breast can react in different ways to changes in body chemistry. These changes impact the sensations and texture of the breast, and they can affect the development of breast lumps.

Possible causes of breast lumps include:

  • an abscess or infection
  • adenoma or fibroadenoma
  • cysts
  • fat necrosis
  • lipoma
  • breast cancer

Some breast lumps feel as though they have a distinct border, while others may feel like a general area of thickened tissue.

The size, feel, and texture of breast lumps can vary differ considerably. The consistency may help a physician to diagnose what kind of a lump it is.

Breast cysts

A breast cyst is a benign, or noncancerous, fluid-filled sac in the breast. It usually feels smooth and rubbery under the skin. Some breast cysts may be painless, while others are quite painful. Breast cysts are rare in women aged over 50 years. It is not clear what causes breast cysts, but they may develop in response to hormones related to menstruation.

Cysts can range in size from very small, only visible on an ultrasound scan, to between 2.5 and 5 centimeters. Large cysts can put pressure on other tissue, and this can be uncomfortable.

A sebaceous cyst may occur if the ducts of sebaceous or oil glands become blocked. A closed sac or cyst may develop below the skin. These may grow bigger as a result of injury or hormone stimulation. Sebaceous cysts do not usually need treatment, but they can be removed if they are painful or bothersome.

Abscesses

Abscesses sometimes develop in the breast. They can be painful. They are noncancerous, and they are usually caused by bacteria. Nearby breast skin can become red, and it can feel hot or solid. Women who are breast feeding are more likely to develop breast abscesses.

Adenoma

An adenoma is an abnormal growth of the glandular tissue in the breast.

Fibroadenomas are the most common types of adenoma in the breast, and they tend to affect women under the age of 30 years, but they may occur in older women too. They account for 50 percent of breast biopsies, but they do not usually become cancerous.

They are not cancerous, and they often go away spontaneously. Fibroadenomas are generally round and firm with smooth borders.

Intraductal papillomas

Intraductal papillomas are wart-like growths that develop in the ducts of the breast. They tend to develop under the nipple. Sometimes there is a bloody discharge. Younger women tend to have multiple growths, while females nearing the menopause usually have just one.

Fat necrosis and lipoma

If fatty tissue in the breast becomes damaged or broken down, fat necrosis may occur. Noncancerous lumps can form in the breast. They may be painful. There may be a nipple discharge and a dimpling of the skin over the lump.

A lipoma is soft, noncancerous lump that is generally movable and painless. It is a benign, fatty tumor.

A breast cancer lump or tumor usually feels hard or firm. It typically has an irregular shape, and it may feel as if it is stuck to the skin or deep tissue within the breast.

Breast cancer is not usually painful, especially in the early stages. It can develop in any part of the breast or nipple, but it is most common in the upper outer quadrant.

Some malignant tumors are painful. This can happen when they are large, and if they cause other structures in the breast to be compressed, or if they ulcerate or grow through the skin.

Pictures

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Five steps for a breast self-examination.

It is important for women to be familiar with their bodies and their breasts. Knowing how the breasts normally feel can help to recognize any problematic changes or lumps.

The following guidelines will help women carry out a self examination.

  1. Looking in a mirror, check the size, shape, and color and look for visible swellings or lumps
  2. Raise the arms and repeat step 1.
  3. Check for any discharge from the nipples that may be watery, milky, yellow, or with blood.
  4. Feel the breasts with a firm, smooth motion while lying down, including under the arms and down to the ribcage.
  5. Repeat step 4 while standing or sitting, It may be easier in the shower.

Even though most breast lumps are benign, anything unusual should be checked by a doctor.

While it is worth seeing a doctor about any breast lump that causes concern, treatment is not often needed, depending on the cause of the lump.

The doctor will carry out a physical examination and they may recommend a mammogram or ultrasound scan to check what kind of lump is present.

If there is a cyst or a fibrous lump, they may recommend monitoring the lump but not taking any further action.

If there is an abscess, the doctor may lance and drain it with a fine needle, and prescribe antibiotics.

If the doctor suspect cancer, a biopsy may be taken. If cancer is found, treatment usually involves surgery and chemotherapy or radiation therapy, depending on the stage of the cancer.

A test for changes in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes may be recommended. If this gene is present and breast cancer has occurred, preventive surgery may be an option to prevent a recurrence.

Most breast lumps are not cancerous, but it is a good idea to have them checked by a medical professional.