Breast lumps are always best examined by a GP. This is bearing in mind that breast cancer is ranked as the second source of cancer today. All the same, not all cases of a lump in the breast are a sign of breast cancer. Infections, benign growths and physical injuries are more common causes.
A lump in the breast can be hard, painful or painless. It mostly depends on its cause and stage of development. Much the same can be said about the best treatment option.
Women are highly advised to maintain a simple breast examination routine at home. This would necessitate knowing how to check breasts for lumps and how to know if lumps are cancerous. All the same, it is only through a biopsy that a lump can be confirmed to be non-cancerous for sure.
Most of the focus related to breast lumps is usually directed towards female breasts. Nevertheless, lumps can also occur on male breasts. It is just that lumps on male breasts are less common. The problem is that they are almost always cancerous when they occur. Formation of a pea sized lump on the testicle or lumps on other body parts should be treated as probable signs of cancer in males.
Common causes of breast lumps
Breast lumps are commonly caused by non-cancerous conditions. They include:
Cysts are sacs that form under the skin. They are usually filled with fluid, but can also contain pus or gas. A cyst will form a hard lump in breast. The lump will be hard and painless. During their development, cysts fill with a protein known as keratin. It gives them a yellowish appearance and a foul odor. It is common for women over 35 years of age to develop cysts in their breasts. During menstruation, cysts change sizes and become tender.
The giveaway symptom of fibroadenoma is the formation of movable and round lumps in breasts. The lumps vary in sizes and feel hard to touch. The condition occurs mostly in younger women and those under birth control pills.
Mastitis is an infection of the breasts that is commonly experienced by breastfeeding women. The infection leads to the formation of a large red lump which makes the breast feel warm. Mastitis is usually accompanied by fever and a lump under the armpit.
The breast is largely made up of a fatty tissue. If an injury for example leads to breakdown of the fat, round, hard and firm lumps may form. Fat necrosis is more common in women with more fat in their breasts.
Breast skin can be affected by abscess. These are bacterial infections which make the affected skin to appear red, swollen and warm. A painful lump behind the ear, in the armpit or throat may develop due to swollen lymph nodes caused by the bacterial infection.
Hyperplasia is described as increase in mass of an organ’s tissue. On the breast, the lobules of breast ducts may increase in mass and form lumps.
Lipoma occurs when a mass of fat starts to develop under the skin. Lipoma lumps in breast are soft, bulgy and rubbery.
A lump in the breast accompanied by bloody discharge is likely to be caused by Intraductal papillomas. The condition results in growths that resemble warts under the nipple.
The breast anatomy; how to check breasts for lumps
Before we even look at how to check breasts for lumps, let’s look at the anatomy of the breast. Pictures will definitely provide a more illustrated view.
The adipose tissue
The adipose tissue makes up most of a female breast. The tissue is a collection of fat cells. It gives the tender and soft feel to breasts. Adipose tissue touches the rib cage from below, the underarm on the side and the collarbone above.
The lobes, milk ducts and lobules
Think of the lobes as subsections in the breast. There are about 15 of them in any female breast. A lobe is comprised of lobules, which are smaller sacs that hold milk in the breast. Milk from the lobules is carried by milk ducts into lobes.
The nipple is the protruding external part of a breast. It contains a number of pores, through which milk comes out.
Lymph nodes and vessels
The breast is filled with lymphatic vessels that help fight infections. The vessels are connected to the main lymphatic system and nodes, mostly the nodes in armpit.
The adipose tissue attaches to a connective tissue all around the breast. Ligaments help keep it in position and erect. Blood vessels and nerve endings are also sufficiently networked in any health female breast.
How to check breasts for lumps
Below are the steps to follow for how to check breasts for lumps:
- Fix a large mirror on a wall
- Hold your arms on your hips and your shoulders straight.
- See if there is any evolution in how the breasts look, compare to each other or measure
- After that, raise your arms for a similar inspection
- Squeeze the nipples for signs of bloody discharges or other fluids.
- Use your hands to physically examine any presence of lumps in the breasts. It may be easier doing so in the shower. Try circular motions rather than forced squeezes.
- Lie down, so that you are facing the ceiling.
- Begin with a circular motion on the nipples and maintain it all over your breast.
- Make sure to apply enough pressure, much as to feel any presence of a lump in the breast.
These are the symptoms that can help you identify a lump in breasts:
- Loss of breast symmetry
- Swollen or sore regions
- Abnormal nipple appearance, such as pushing inwards
- Depression or dimple formation on the breasts
Women are advised to perform breast examinations every month. This is best done a week after menstruation.
Remember that the adipose tissue has been identified to extend up to near armpit. For this reason, a lump in armpit should not go without causing concern.
Is a hard lump in breast sign of cancer?
More than 8 in 10 cases of breast lumps will be non-cancerous. All the same, the stakes are too high to take the risk. Breast cancer can develop due to uncontrolled multiplication of cells or due to migration of cancer cells from other body parts. The lymphatic and blood circulatory system are mostly used by migrating cancer cells.
The common tell-tale sign of breast cancer is development of a hard lump in breast. The lump will most likely have the following characteristics:
- Irregularly shaped
- solid and firm
- fixed to breast tissue
- gradually gaining mass
- surrounded by other tiny lumps
- can sometimes be painful
Always consider having any painless or painful lump in the breast checked by your doctor. This is even if you can tie it to a physical injury or infection. Injuries and infections are known to encourage uncontrolled division of body cells. Cancer may also cause other symptoms such as a swollen lump under the chin, bloody discharge and swollen lymph nodes.
Diagnosis and treatment for breast lumps
Mammogram and biopsy are commonly used for breast cancer lump diagnosis. A doctor will afterwards prescribe the best treatment.
Cysts do not require specialized treatment. They heal on their own. It is only if they are to indefinitely increase in size that surgical removal may be necessary.
Antibiotics are used to get rid of skin abscesses. As mentioned earlier, abscesses may lead to a small lump that is usually painful, red and swollen, on the breast. Antibiotics can also be prescribed for a breastfeeding lump due to mastitis.
Lumps due to fat accumulation in the breast may need to be surgically removed. This is especially because such lumps are easy to confuse with cancerous tumors.
For breast cancer, treatment with chemotherapy, radiation and surgery are necessary. Breast lumps due to cancer are treatable when found early enough. It is for this reason that patients are advised to get medical advice immediately they notice a lump on, around or under the breast.
Treating breast lumps at home
A breastfeeding lump or mastitis is commonly treated at home through warm compress. A warm compress is applied by soaking a fine wash cloth in warm water, wringing it and compressing it on the affected breast for about 10 minutes.
Warm compresses work by opening the blocked milk ducts. This not only reduces pain but also keeps from more blockages. You can also try hot showers and massaging the breast during the treatment.
Cold compress will help with painful lump in breast. For obese women or women with large breasts, physical exercises are advised for. You can also consider breast massage as part of long-term treatment. For small, red lump, try coconut or castor oil. The two are known to soothe the skin as well as ease pain. They can also help fight infections.
Avoid treatment at home for breast lumps whose cause is not clearly identifiable.