Breast lumps can result from physical injuries, infections and tumors. To most women, a breast lump can be the most terrifying discovery. The good news is that only about 15-20% of all breast lumps are cancerous.
You are always advised to make an appointment with your GP to find out the actual cause of a breast lump. Additionally, women are advised to routinely carry out breast examinations. These exams have not been shown to reduce the number of deaths caused by breast cancer, however.
This article discusses the different types of breast lumps there are, their causes, symptoms and indications of malignancy.
Types of lumps in breasts
Typically, there are 2 types of lumps in breasts. These are benign and malignant tumors.
This category includes any lump that will not spread or invade other body tissues and organs. Most breast lumps fall into this category. This category includes cysts, lipomas, fibroadenomas and lumps caused by infections such as mastitis.
Benign tumors can be left untreated. Some, like those due to infections, require medical intervention.
These are responsible for a small percentage of all breast lumps but are most dangerous. In fact, breast cancer is the second leading type of killer cancer after lung cancer.
Malignant tumors in the breast will gradually increase in size, invading and destroying nearby healthy tissues. With time, cancerous cells will enter the lymphatic system and invade lymph nodes in different locations. After that, the cells will settle in different organs such as the lungs, brain and stomach where they will continue to cause havoc.
The reason as to why you are advised to have a lump in your breast checked by a doctor is because advanced breast cancer is very hard to treat. In early stages, the survival rate is set at about 95%. This drops to less than 20% when cancer cells have spread to other body parts.
Different types of breast lumps
Let’s now look at the different types of breast lumps in regards to what causes them.
The most common cause of temporary breast swelling and perhaps lumps is the menstrual cycle. These changes are caused by fluctuations in the levels of sex hormones. Changes that may occur include tenderness, a lump-like feeling in the breast and sometimes pain. If you are experience intolerable pain and actual formation of lumps, see your GP.
Unlike other types of cysts, breast cysts tend to appear about two weeks before menstruation and disappear after the period. They are more common in menopausal women. Breast cysts are usually round, soft, firm and slightly movable. Sebaceous cysts which originate in hair follicles can also develop on breasts. These are however more common causes of lump in lower eyelid, back, chin or even a lump on shaft of penis.
The breast is largely made up of a fatty tissue. Since lipomas are benign growths that originate in fatty tissues, the breast is a common location to find them. Lipomas rarely exceed 2 cm in diameter. They form round or oval, soft, rubbery and movable lumps under the skin. It is possible to have multiple lipomas at one location. Lipomas that occur much deeper in the skin can cause a hard lump on shoulder and near different bones.
These are lumps that develop after an injury to breast fatty tissue. They are not dangerous and only require treatment if they persist for long periods of time.
Fibroadenomas are benign round, hard, marble-like, movable lumps that commonly develop in girls and young women. Women who started using birth control pills at an early age are more likely to develop these lumps.
Mastitis is the most common infection that can result in lump formation. Bacteria enters into the breast tissue through cracks on the nipple, especially when breastfeeding. An abscess can also develop due to presence of bacteria. Abscesses are usually painful and contain pus.
These are wart-like growths that usually develop under the nipple. Young women can develop multiple growths. In some cases, the growths are accompanied by bloody discharge.
Breast cancer forms a hard lump in the breast.
What type of lumps are breast cancer
As we have seen so far, most types of breast lumps are benign. The biggest problem seems to arise when breast cancer is brought into the mix. So what type of lumps are actually breast cancer? To answer this question, let’s look at the common signs and symptoms of breast cancer:
- Nipple secretions
- Dimpling of breast skin
- Scaly nipple
- Nipple tenderness
- Nipple retraction
- Changes in color of skin, especially in the nipple
- Nipple discharge
Most breast cancer lumps are solitary, hard and often but not always painless. The breast tissue extends to near armpits. This is known as the outer upper quadrant. Half the number of breast cancer lumps develop in this region.
Breast cancer lumps can take up to 5 years or more to form detectable lumps. At this stage, they are most treatable. If not treated, it will spread to the lymphatic system. At this stage, you may experience signs such as swollen armpit lymph nodes. If still not treated, the cancer will spread to other body parts.
Here, signs such as lump in esophagus, chronic cough, fever, general weakness and loss of weight may occur. It means that other organs of the body have been invaded. This is the most deadly stage of breast cancer.
When to see a doctor for different types of breast lumps
See your doctor to confirm diagnosis if you are to discover a lump in your breast, especially one that causes nipple changes in either or both breasts. Note that breast cancer also develops in men. In about 45,000 deaths related to breast cancer, 300 will be reported in men.
For benign tumors, see your doctor if the lump is accompanied by signs and symptoms of infection. Common ones include fever, pain, swelling and pus formation. Tumors that cause pain or become bothersome in any other way are usually removed through surgery.
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