Breast lumps are common and have a number of different causes.
Although most lumps aren't breast cancer, any unusual changes to the breasts should be checked by a GP as soon as possible. If your GP finds a lump on examination, they will routinely refer you to be seen by a hospital specialist.
There are several types of benign (non-cancerous) breast lump, most of which are harmless and are caused by hormonal changes that occur at different times in a woman's life, such as during the menstrual cycle.
Common types of benign breast lump include:
- a fibroadenoma – a firm lump that moves around easily in the breast and is more common in younger women
- a breast cyst – a smooth, firm fluid-filled lump most commonly seen in women aged 30 to 60
- a breast abscess – a painful collection of pus that forms under the skin of the breast, usually as the result of a bacterial infection
Read more about the causes of breast lumps.
Checking your breasts
It's important to be "breast aware" so you can identify any problems in your breasts and get them checked out as soon as possible. This means being familiar with your breasts and what is normal for them, and examining them regularly for any changes.
If you are 50 years or over, it's also important to attend breast cancer screening appointments every three years, where a type of X-ray called a mammogram will be carried out to look for early signs of cancer.
But don't wait until your next screening appointment if you notice any problems in your breast. See your GP right away.
Seeing your GP
It is important you see your GP as soon as possible if you notice a lump in your breasts so a cause can be confirmed. Finding a lump in your breast can be a worry, but around 90% of breast lumps are benign.
You also should see your GP if you notice any other changes to one or both of your breasts, such as:
- an area of thickened tissue
- nipple discharge, which may contain blood
- a change in the size or shape of your breasts
- dimpling on the skin of your breasts
- a rash on or around your nipples
- a change in your nipple's appearance – for example, becoming sunken into your breast
- persistent pain in your breasts or armpits
- a lump or swelling in your armpits
Your GP will ask you about your symptoms and will then ask your permission to examine your breasts. You should also be asked whether you'd like another staff member – such as a practice nurse – to be present while your breast is being examined.
Your GP may then refer you for further tests, such as an ultrasound scan and mammogram, to determine the cause.
Being referred for further testing can be scary, but it does not necessarily mean your GP thinks you have breast cancer. Most people who have these further tests are eventually found to have a benign condition.
Read more about diagnosing breast lumps.
How breast lumps are treated
Benign breast lumps do not necessarily require any treatment, although treatment may be recommended if the lump is particularly large, is getting bigger, or is causing other symptoms such as pain.
Medication can often help relieve breast pain, and antibiotics can treat any bacterial infections that may have caused the lump to develop.
In some cases, a needle may need to be used to drain away any fluid or pus within the breast lump. Local anaesthetic will be used to numb the area being treated so you don't feel any pain while this is carried out.
Occasionally, surgery may be carried out to cut out the lump. This will normally be done under general anaesthetic (where you are asleep) and you will usually be able to go home the same day.
Read more about treating breast lumps.