Many conditions can cause a lump on the chest. Some are benign, while others may be more serious.

A lump in the chest, whether in the breast, near the sternum, or elsewhere on the rib cage, is a common symptom of many different conditions.

It is natural for a person to have concerns if they find a lump. Generally, a cancerous lump in the breast will feel hard and angular, while a benign cyst or abscess will feel round and smooth.

However, people should consult with a doctor if they find any lump. Without the help of a healthcare professional, it can be difficult to identify different types of lumps and what might be causing them.

This article reviews common conditions that cause lumps in the chest.

Lumps can occur in three main areas:

  • within the breast tissue
  • on the chest
  • below the sternum

A doctor talking to a patient about a lump on the patient's chest.Share on Pinterest
Image credit: Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/Getty Images

Several conditions can cause lumps on the chest.

Breast cancer

Breast cancer may be the first place a person’s mind goes to when they discover a lump.

A cancerous lump in the breast tends to be irregular, solid, and not painful, but it is difficult to assess. A person should talk with a doctor if they feel a change in their normal breast tissue.

However, some breast cancer masses can be soft and painful, so it is vital to get regular mammograms.

Other symptoms of breast cancer include:

  • skin dimpling
  • pain in the nipple or breast
  • nipple retraction, meaning they turn inward
  • nipple discharge
  • breast swelling
  • swollen lymph nodes

Breast cyst

A breast cyst is a fluid-filled, closed sac, which is common in breast tissue and usually not cancerous.

Cysts can feel either soft or hard but are usually large and smooth on the outside. In breasts, cysts can feel similar to hard lumps due to the surrounding tissue covering them.

If a cyst is benign and not painful, a doctor might not perform any medical procedure to resolve them.

However, if it is large and causes pain, a healthcare professional may perform a fine-needle aspiration to withdraw fluid from the cyst. Once they remove the fluid, the cyst will collapse, but it may reappear later.

Breast fibroadenoma

A fibroadenoma is a noncancerous lump comprising glandular tissue and connective tissue in the breast.

They are not serious and occur most commonly in females between the ages of 20–39 years. The lump can be tiny or grow up to several inches across. They are smooth, similar to marbles, with round borders.

The lumps are rubbery but not painful, and they move around under the skin if a person pushes on them.

A doctor might perform a biopsy to confirm the lump is a fibroadenoma and not a tumor.

Several conditions may cause lumps near the sternum.

Lipoma

An overgrowth of fat cells triggers this type of dome-shaped lump, which is soft to the touch. A lipoma is not cancerous and occurs in about 1% of people.

They are not painful, but if a person experiences discomfort, it could indicate a change in the lipoma, which may suggest cancer. However, this is extremely rare.

Most doctors will not treat a lipoma unless it is in a complicated area, or it is large and uncomfortable.

Hodgkin lymphoma

Lymphoma is a type of cancer in the immune system, while Hodgkin lymphoma starts in the white blood cells.

The most common initial symptom of this disease is an enlarged lymph node that causes a lump in the neck, underarm, groin, or chest area.

It usually does not hurt but may be tender. If the swollen nodes are inside a person’s chest, they may have trouble breathing and cough uncontrollably.

Because many factors can cause swelling in the lymph nodes, a person should also look out for other symptoms, including:

Healthcare providers usually treat Hodgkin lymphoma with chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

If a lump occurs below a person’s sternum, there are two common causes.

Epigastric hernia

A hernia is when an organ pushes through the muscles and tissues that hold it in place, causing it to protrude into a lump.

An epigastric hernia occurs just below the sternum. The bulge usually consists of fatty tissue, but the gut can also cause protrusions.

A weakness in the muscles of the abdomen usually causes this condition, and a doctor may recommend surgery to correct the issue.

Xiphoid syndrome

Xiphoid syndrome is the painful swelling of the xiphoid process, the protrusion of cartilage at the bottom of the sternum.

An injury or overuse due to manual labor can produce a lump, but this condition is rare.

Treatments may involve anti-inflammatory medication or steroid injections.

Because so many different factors can cause a lump in the chest, speaking with a doctor for an examination is crucial, especially if the lump does not recede on its own in a few weeks.

A healthcare professional will likely perform a physical examination of the lump to check its edges, size, and firmness.

They will then ask the person how painful the area is. The doctor may also use medical imaging, such as an MRI, CT scan, X-ray, or mammogram, to get a better look at the lump.

Finally, if a healthcare professional needs a further examination, they can schedule a biopsy. With this procedure, a doctor removes a small sample of the lump to analyze it under a microscope or conduct additional tests.

While a lump in the chest or breast might immediately raise concerns, many factors may cause them to develop. While some can be serious, many are benign and may not require further treatment.

However, a person should continually monitor a lump for changes and consult a doctor if they have concerns. People should also speak with a healthcare professional if they have a lump that is painful or rapidly changes in size or shape.