Breast lumps are very common and most women will experience one or more lumps at some time in her life. Happily, the vast majority (at least nine out of ten) are benign, or not cancerous. These benign lumps can be caused by cysts (sacs of fluid which build up in the breast tissue) or fibroadenomas (solid growths made up of fibrous and glandular tissue).
If you find a lump in your breast, or notice any other changes such as:
- change in size or shape of your breasts
- dimpling of the skin (skin looks like texture of orange peel)
- lumpiness or thickening
- newly inverted (turned-in) nipple
- bloodstained discharge from nipple
- rash on nipple or surrounding area
- swelling or a lump in the armpit
You must see your doctor straight away. Your GP will examine you and then will arrange for you to have any tests or X-rays you may need at the hospital or specialist clinic. These tests may include:
- mammography (X-ray examination of the breasts)
- ultrasound (sound waves are used to create an image of the lump)
- colour doppler (a special type of ultrasound which gives a colour picture showing the blood supply to the lump – tumours often have a very rich blood supply)
- magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – a scan using a magnetic field to build up a cross-sectional picture of your body
- needle aspiration; a fine needle and syringe is used to take a sample of cells from the breast lump to send to the laboratory for tests
- core biopsy; a small sample of the breast tissue is taken for examination in the laboratory
- excision biopsy; the lump is removed under general anaesthetic and sent to the laboratory for examination
Benign breast lumps do not normally need treatment, although they may be removed as part of the diagnostic process (if the lump is removed for biopsy, for example).
Early detection of breast cancer is vital as it increases the chance of successful treatment. Women are therefore encouraged to be breast aware. This means knowing how your breasts look and feel and the normal changes that occur at different times of your menstrual cycle. Visit your doctor if you feel a lump, or if one of your breasts changes shape or become constantly painful. There is no need to examine yourself on a strict routine, but its sensible to look and feel your breasts from time to time. Doing this while showering, bathing or standing in front of a mirror may be convenient.
Breast screening (mammography) is an X-ray examination of the breasts. It can show up abnormalities at an early stage, when they are too small for you or your doctor to feel. A mammogram only takes a few minutes and involves only a small dose of radiation - much less than an X-ray for a broken bone. The health risk is therefore very small. Some women find breast screening uncomfortable as the breasts have to be held firmly in position and compressed for a few seconds in order to take a clear picture. This discomfort is usually passes as soon as the mammogram is over.
However, mammograms are not always 100% accurate so, even you have had a clear X-ray result, if you feel a breast lump, see your doctor at once.
This information was published by Bupa's health information team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been peer reviewed by Bupa doctors. The content is intended for general information only and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional.
National Cancer Institute
Breast Cancer Care