Know that a breast lump can indicate a range of conditions that aren't cancer
Cancer Care

Is It Cancer? Next Steps When You Find a Lump

When a lump is found in your breast, you may immediately ask: "Is it cancer?" Don't panic: Most breast lumps are not cancer, and some may even go away on their own. However, it is important to have all lumps examined by a physician.

It's a good idea to get to know your breasts and how they change throughout your monthly cycle. For many women, breasts become lumpier and more sensitive the week before their period starts each month and less lumpy after. Becoming familiar with your breasts' cycle can help you determine whether your lump is part of your cycle or something different that needs attention.

What to Do When You Find a Lump

The first thing to do when you find a lump, especially if it's a tiny one, is get a pen or marker and place an X or circle on your skin over the lump to mark the spot. Sometimes, the tiny lumps can be difficult to find again, especially if it's deep in the breast or you are feeling nervous in the doctor's office. After you have marked the lump's location, call your primary care physician or gynecologist to schedule an appointment.

Your physician will examine your breasts and the lump in question. She may schedule imaging to get a better look at the breast tissue, and if necessary, a biopsy. The imaging may be an ultrasound or a mammogram. From these images, your medical team will determine whether a biopsy is necessary.

Other Warning Signs

Other breast changes to report to your physician include:

  • Swelling, warmth, or redness.
  • Skin puckering or having the texture of an orange peel.
  • A rash on the nipple.
  • Nipple discharge.
  • A change in the shape of your breast, such as a dent.
  • An inversion or dent in the nipple.
  • Breast pain in one spot that does not go away after your period.

In the event that the lump is cancer, finding it early and getting started with treatment at an early stage can help to preserve breast tissue and improve the overall outcome.

Other Breast-Related Conditions

While breast cancer is often the first thought when a lump in the breast is discovered, it might not be cancer. Some other possibilities are:

  • Fibroids or fibrocystic breasts. Lumpy breast tissue.
  • Cysts. Sacs of fluid in the breast.
  • Fat necrosis. Scar tissue in a fatty area of the breast.
  • Mammary duct ectasia. A blocked milk duct.
  • Benign breast tumors. A growth in the breast that is not cancer.
  • Mastitis. An infection of breast tissue; this will require treatment.

While these other causes of breast lumps are not cancer, they should still certainly be noted in your medical record and tracked over time. Some of these conditions may need treatment such as medication or surgery.

If you are familiar with your breasts and how they change throughout your cycle, you are in a good position to know when something is not right. It can be scary to find a lump in your breast, and it can cause panicked worst-case questions running through your head: "Is it cancer?" Having your lump checked out by the doctor is the first step toward bringing you peace of mind.

Posted in Cancer Care

Judy Schwartz Haley is a freelance writer and blogger. She grew up in Alaska and now makes her home in Seattle with her husband and young daughter. Judy battled breast cancer when her daughter was an infant, and now she devotes much of her free time to volunteering as a state leader with the Young Survival Coalition, which supports young women with breast cancer.

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*This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute health care advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor or physician before making health care decisions.