When to Worry about Breast Lumps?

Is there a need to panic if you suddenly find a breast lump? The answer is NO. The majority of breast lumps are noncancerous (benign). A breast lump is a growth of tissue that develops within the breast which may frighten you or provoke anxiety. Furthermore, you may panic if you visit a doctor and are recommended to go for a biopsy.

According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation's research, almost 80 per cent of women who do breast biopsies receive a negative result. This means that the breast lump is noncancerous. You must get your breast lump evaluated by a healthcare provider. Let us understand how to identify if your breast lump is suspicious, when to consult a doctor and what to do if you notice a breast lump.

Facts about Breast Lumps

Some breast-related symptoms like tenderness or lumpiness could be due to the menstrual cycle. Breast tissue also changes during pregnancy and menopause. If you find a breast lump which is a pea-size or even smaller than a pea, is soft, movable and filled with fluid, it is usually a harmless breast lump. Additionally, a harmless breast lump can also be hard and unmovable and may feel rooted in its place. What may distinguish a noncancerous breast lump from a cancerous one is the movement of the lump. If the lump is filled with fluid and can roll between the fingers, it may be cancerous.

Another important aspect is pain. Benign conditions may cause pain, but breast cancer does not generally cause pain. There is a rare form of breast cancer which may cause symptoms like aching, tenderness, pain or burning in the breast. This type of breast cancer is called inflammatory breast cancer.

Causes of Breast Lumps

Breast lumps can be a result of many underlying breast conditions. You may develop a breast lump because of any of the below-mentioned causes.

Breast Cysts

A breast cyst may appear before the menstrual period, is usually smaller in size and disappear after the menstrual period. Sometimes it could be large and the surrounding breast tissue may appear tender. If you find a lump in your breast that feels smooth, firm and round, then it could be a breast cyst where a dilated milk duct will be filled with fluid.

Your doctor may check your breast during the menstrual period and again at the end of your menstrual period. If the cyst has disappeared, it could be concluded that the lump was benign and was associated with hormonal fluctuations in menstruation. Cysts are more common in women between the ages of 35 to 50.

Fibrocystic Breast Changes

These changes could appear during the menstrual period and may improve after the period is over. In fibrocystic breast changes, you may feel fullness, tenderness and lumpiness in the breasts


These are solid and noncancerous tumors that can move under your skin when touched. This tumour may grow larger and is usually associated with pregnancy, hormone therapy or menstruation. It is more common in girls who use birth control pills before age 20.

Fat Necrosis

A severe injury to the breast tissue or nearby nerves may create a breast lump and this condition is termed fat necrosis. In this health condition, one may experience a collection of abscess (infected fluid) in breast tissue. This often causes breast pain and inflammation of the skin around the breast. It's more common in women with large breasts or obese women. A doctor may observe the lump through several menstrual cycles and decide to remove it surgically or with a needle.

Breast Cancer

A breast lump due to breast cancer is painless, hard and irregularly shaped. The skin around this breast lump may look red, dimpled or pitted like the skin of an orange. Moreover, the breast size and shape may change or you may notice a discharge from the nipple.

Nipple Discharge

A nipple discharge may happen with or without a breast lump and the colour of the discharge may vary from yellow to green. A milky or clear discharge is a warning of a hormonal malfunction, while a greenish or black discharge could be linked to narrowing or blockage of the duct and is called duct ectasia. Sometimes the discharge could be bloody and could either be noncancerous or cancerous. The doctor may examine the fluid under a microscope to identify the problem.


This is an infection of the milk duct which can create a lumpy, red and warm breast. It may commonly occur in breastfeeding women and is generally accompanied by a fever. If it occurs in a non-breastfeeding woman, a doctor may recommend doing a biopsy.

Other Medical Conditions

An overgrowth of cells in the breast is called hyperplasia. This medical condition may cause breast lumps. Also, other less-common medical conditions like adenosis (enlarged lobules), intraductal papilloma (growth of gland tissue in the duct) and lipoma (benign fatty tumour) can cause breast lumps.

The only way to know if a breast lump is cancerous or noncancerous is through medical tests like ultrasound or a mammogram. Doctors may also suggest fine needle aspiration (FNA) where a tiny needle is used to extract a bit of the lump for laboratory examination.

If You Notice a Lump in Your Breast

Delayed diagnosis could be bothersome and one way to ease your worry is by taking immediate action. Follow these suggestions if you notice a breast lump −

  • Do not panic. Not every breast lump is cancerous

  • Book an appointment with your doctor and explain your symptoms about the lump

  • Be mentally prepared for a medical test like an ultrasound, a mammogram or an MRI of your breast. Doing these clinical tests doesn't always mean you have breast cancer. They are for the doctors to reach a diagnosis.

  • Your doctor may ask you to go for a biopsy to check if the lump is benign or cancerous (malignant).

  • Follow up on test results and discuss them with your doctor.

  • Seek out another opinion if you think your concerns were not fully addressed

When to Consult a Doctor?

Every breast lump should be examined by a doctor. Most cancerous tumours initially appear as hard lumps. They may also feel like a mere thickening under the skin. If you notice changes in the skin over the lump or in the size of the lump, you should immediately consult a physician.

Another warning sign could be a change in the nipple such as enlargement, inverted nipple or discharge. If you experience breast pain that doesn't go away after the menstruation period or notice a change in the size, shape or appearance of a breast, do not delay in contacting your doctor.


Finding a breast lump can be worrisome but not all breast lumps are cancerous. A clinical examination can help ease your worry and differentiate if the breast lump is benign or malignant.

Breast cancer lumps are generally immovable and hard, while noncancerous lumps are softer and easy to move. You can perform breast self-exams periodically to notice any early changes and consult a doctor if you notice a suspicious breast lump.