Sometimes, a lump in the breast is a symptom of breast cancer. While not all lumps are cancerous, a person should have a doctor check any new lumps that appear in the breast or armpit.

Other warning signs of breast cancer a person should look out for are nipple discharge, dimpling skin, and breast swelling or thickening.

Read on to learn more about different types of breast lumps and when they are a symptom of breast cancer.

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Nobody’s breasts are the same, and how they look and feel may change throughout the menstrual cycle.

Many conditions and medications could cause lumps in the breast. These include:

However, if a person is concerned about a lump, they should speak with a doctor who can physically examine it.

According to a 2020 article, a cancerous breast lump is painless, hard, and has uneven edges. It may also fix itself to underlying tissue such as the chest wall. This means it will not move when someone prods it.

When a person sees or feels a change in their breast, be it a new lump or skin dimpling, they should consult a doctor who will physically examine the breast. To learn more about the lump, the doctor usually will request a mammogram or ultrasound.

Other symptoms of breast cancer

Other changes in the breast people should look out for include:

  • nipple discharge, which may be clear or tea-colored
  • nipple texture and color changes
  • changes in the breast, including color changes and itchy, flaky, or dimpled skin

Although breast cancer is rare in males, these symptoms also apply to them.

Cancerous breast lumps do not have a set size. Some could be the size of a pea while others could be larger. Any lump, no matter how big or small, could cause cancer.

That said, the longer a cancerous lump grows, the greater the risk of cancer spreading to other parts of the body. This is why it is important that people speak with a doctor as soon as they notice a lump in their breast of any size.

Benign breast lumps are non-cancerous, and it is normal for people to have them at some point during their lives. Cysts and fibroadenomas are examples of benign breast lumps.

According to Breastcancer.org, symptoms of benign breast lumps include:

  • general breast pain
  • nipple pain
  • yellow or green discharge from the nipple

However, some types of breast cancer also present with these symptoms, so it is important that a person speaks with a doctor as soon as they notice any changes in their breast.

Also, some benign breast conditions can increase the risk of a person developing breast cancer later in life. In these cases, a doctor will draw up a treatment plan and monitor the breast for any changes.

Learn more about noncancerous breast lumps here.

Cysts are common in females aged between 35–50 and are benign lumps. Unlike cancerous lumps, cysts may enlarge and feel sore during the days before menstruation. Blocked breast glands can cause cysts.

When a person is examining their breast, the lump may feel soft or hard. At the skin surface, a person may think the lump feels like a large blister. If the cyst is deeper in the breast, it may feel hard due to the tissue covering it.

Cysts can go away on their own, but in some cases a doctor may drain the fluid.

Fibroadenomas are small, painless lumps that feel solid, smooth, and round. They are most common in females who are 20–30 years old.

Unlike cancerous lumps, fibroadenomas do not present with nipple discharge and swelling. A person may feel they can move the lump around, and that it has a rubbery texture.

One certain type of fibroadenoma may increase the risk of developing breast cancer, particularly in females where breast cancer runs in the family.

Usually, a fibroadenoma will go away on its own, but a doctor will remove it if it does not, or if it grows bigger.

If a person notices their breast is lumpy, tender, and warm while nursing they likely have mastitis.

Mastitis an infection that develops from a blocked milk duct. A doctor will treat the infection with antibiotics. To prevent mastitis from recurring, a person may need to try different nursing techniques.

If more lumps develop in the breast after the person takes antibiotics, they should speak to their doctor again. While only 3% of females develop breast cancer while nursing, it is important for a person to watch closely for any changes in their breast at this time.

Learn more about breast cancer while breastfeeding here.

According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, people should perform breast self-exams at least once a month. The best time for females to do this is immediately after the end of a menstrual period.

A person can perform the following steps to perform a breast self-exam:

  1. With the pads of the three middle fingers, press down with light, medium, and firm pressure on the entire breast and armpit area. Check for any lumps or thickened knots and areas.
  2. Visually inspect the breasts with the arms at the sides, and then with the arms raised. Look for changes in breast shape and skin texture.
  3. Lower the arms and rest the palms on the hips. Press down firmly to cause the chest muscles to flex. Look for dimpling, puckering, or any other changes, particularly on one side.
  4. Lie down and place a pillow under the right shoulder and place the right arm behind the head. Using the left hand, use the pads of the fingers to press around the breast and armpit area. Again, using light, medium, and firm pressure, check for lumps. Squeeze the nipple to check for discharge. Repeat this step on the left breast.

How to perform a male self-exam

A person can perform the following steps:

  1. Stand in front of a mirror with the arms at the hips. Tighten the chest muscles and check for any changes, including dimpling, swelling, or inverted nipples.
  2. Raise the arms above the head and continue looking for breast changes.
  3. Using the fingertip, move around the breast and armpit area in a circular motion to check for lumps.
  4. Check the nipple for any discharge.
  5. Complete this check for both sides.

Breast self exams should not be a substitute for getting regular mammograms to screen for breast cancer. The United States Preventive Services Task Force suggests that females aged 50–74 get a mammogram every 2 years. Those aged 40–49 should talk to a healthcare professional about when they should get a mammogram.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provide breast cancer screening services to people with a low income, as well as those who are underinsured or have no insurance.

A person may be eligible for free or low-cost screenings if they:

  • have no insurance or if their insurance does not cover breast cancer screening
  • have a yearly income that is at or below 250% of the federal poverty level
  • are aged between 40–64

For males

As breast cancer is rare in males, there is little benefit in screening regularly for breast cancer. Additionally, a mammography is typically only done if a lump is present.

However, those with a family history of breast cancer can request genetic testing and counseling. These tests can help discover if a person has a particular gene that increases the chance of developing breast cancer, such as the BRCA gene mutation.

A person should speak with a doctor as soon as they feel a lump in their breast.

It is impossible to tell if a lump is cancerous or benign from self-examination alone.

Other symptoms a person should look out for include nipple discharge, breast skin dimpling that resembles orange peel, and changes in nipple and breast color. If a doctor is unsure of the cause of the lump they generally will request either an ultrasound or mammogram to get more information.

A lump in the breast can be benign or malignant. Breast consistency can change with menstruation, pregnancy, menopause, or weight gain.

If a person has breast cancer, they may notice other symptoms, such as other lumps near the armpit or discharge from the nipple.

A person should always speak with a doctor if they find a lump in their breast, no matter how small the lump is. If the lump is cancerous and grows bigger, the cancer cells could break off and spread to other areas of the body.

Non-cancerous lumps are benign and include cysts and fibroadenomas. Cysts may enlarge and cause pain just before a person’s period starts. Fibroadenomas feel solid and move when a person pokes them.