The signs and symptoms of breast lumps vary depending on the cause. In this article, we will examine some of the causes of breast lumps and the specific signs and symptoms that might develop.

Anyone who feels a lump in their breast should visit a doctor to have it examined; this is true for both men and women.

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There are a number of potential causes of lumps within the breast.

Fibrocystic breasts, also called fibrocystic breast disease, is a benign condition, meaning that it is non-cancerous. It causes changes to occur in breast tissue, resulting in:

  • Breast discomfort and general tenderness
  • Irregular nodules or small lumps
  • Dense breast tissue

Symptoms may change with the menstrual cycle, with swelling more common right before menstruation.

Women may have very different symptoms, and the same woman may experience varying symptoms on different occasions.

For some patients, fibrocystic breasts are a slight nuisance, while for others, it can be extremely painful.

Doctors say that fibrocystic breasts may be a response to change in hormone levels related to menstrual cycles. The condition is very common and does not increase the risk of developing breast cancer.

Fibroadenomas are small, solid, rubbery, benign (non-cancerous) lumps, consisting of fibrous and glandular tissue. They are common in younger women. Doctors may recommend a tissue sample (biopsy) to rule out cancer if the fibroadenoma feels concerning. Signs and symptoms include:

  • A well-rounded, smooth, solid lump
  • They are painless
  • They may disappear on their own, but can often persist and slowly grow
  • When touched they move easily, referred to as “mobile”
  • They have a rubber-like texture

A cyst is a closed sac-like structure – an abnormal pocket of fluid, like a blister – that contains a combination of fluid or semi-solid substances. Cysts are located within a tissue, and can occur anywhere in the body and vary in size – some are so small that they can only be viewed through a microscope, while others may become so big that they displace normal organs.

A breast cyst is a fluid-filled sac within the breast; there may be many or just one. They are typically:

  • Round
  • With distinct edges
  • With a soft grape like or water-filled balloon texture
  • The cyst may feel firm
  • More common in woman in their 30s and 40s
  • They may be more common if the woman is taking HRT (hormone replacement therapy)
  • They may be tiny or several centimeters in diameter
  • Pain is unusual unless the cyst is particularly large and grows during the menstrual cycle
  • There are different types of breast cysts that have varying degrees of fluid and solid features, some are more concerning for cancer and may require further testing, like a mammogram, ultrasound, or biopsy

Unless the cyst is large and causing discomfort, in which case it may be drained, it does not normally require treatment.

During the early stages, breast cancer may not have any palpable symptoms (symptoms the patient can notice). However, as the tumor grows, the way the breast looks and feels can change. The following changes may occur:

  • A thickening in the breast, or near it (in the underarm area)
  • A lump in the breast or near it (in the underarm area)
  • The lump may feel firm, usually has an irregular shape, and seems anchored (stuck) to either deep tissue within the breast or the skin of the breast or nearby area
  • The size and/or shape of the breast may change
  • There may be puckering or dimpling in the skin of the affected breast
  • The nipple of the affected breast may turn inward
  • There may be a discharge from the nipple; the discharge may be bloody
  • The skin on the breast and/or nipple may be scaly, red, or swollen

Some breast cancers are difficult to distinguish from benign breast lesions like cysts or fibroadenomas. Whenever you can feel a lump in your breast, it is important to see a doctor. Breast cancer is more treatable when it is caught early.

For further information about breast lumps, below is a selection of Medical News Today articles covering other angles: