How do you know if a Lump is Cancerous: Signs, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment

Cancer is a collective name that describes over 100 types of disease. The common characteristic is abnormal cell growth or death. Cancerous cells usually spread and invade other body parts. This is one of the reasons why the disease is so hard to treat.

Lumps and cancer are very closely related. Apart from leukemia (cancer of the blood), almost all other types form lumps on body tissues and organs.

It is very important to learn how to tell if a lump is cancerous or not. This is largely because the disease is more treatable in its early stages.

Cancer facts and statistics you should know

Let’s start by looking at facts about cancer that are important to know:

Skin cancer is most common of all types. Lung cancer is responsible for most deaths associated with cancer, followed by breast cancer. Smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer and the most preventable one. However, non-smokers also can be diagnosed with the disease.

More than 2 million people die globally every year due to cancer related cases. Interestingly, about 50% of these deaths can be prevented. Out of every 8 deaths, 1 will be caused by cancer.

Unlike what most people will have you believe, very few cases of cancer are genetically linked. People from the same family lines tend to contract the disease more often due to similar lifestyles and habits.

There are three main reasons why cancer is hard to treat. One, cancer cells spread to other body parts in a process known as metastasis. Two, the disease rarely causes noticeable symptoms in its initial stages. Three, cancer cells tend to resist treatment options already used in previous tumors.

Cancer develops in stages. At stage I, treatable lumps form. At stage II, the cells spread into the lymphatic system. At stage III, the cells spread to other body tissues and organs. Stage III is the hardest to treat. Unfortunately, it is the stage during which most signs and symptoms occur.

Signs and symptoms of cancerous lumps

A sign is something that can be noticed by another individual while a symptom is mostly only felt by the affected person. For example, a chronic cough is a sign while fatigue is a symptom. Note that having any of the signs and symptoms mentioned below doesn’t necessarily mean that you have cancer.


Cancer basically develops when normal body cells divide abnormally. Naturally, excess or abnormal cells ‘commit suicide’ in a process known as apoptosis. This process is however inhibited in cancerous cells. As a result, cells accumulate and form a continuously growing lump. Most cancer lumps are painless, hard and firmly fixed.

Unexplained weight loss

Most cancer patients lose weight without trying to. This is common with esophageal, lung and pancreatic cancer.


Fatigue is a common symptom of leukemia. Patients experience general tiredness that doesn’t get better even after rest.

Swollen lymph nodes

Lymph nodes swell due to infections and diseases. When cancer cells spread into the lymphatic system, more than one lymph node terminal will swell.


As cancer cells spread, it is common for patients to develop fever. This is commonly seen in cases of leukemia and lymphoma.

Other signs and symptoms include;

  • Sores which take too long to heal
  • skin changes
  • chest, back or bone pain
  • headaches
  • chronic cough
  • voice hoarseness
  • blood in stool
  • vaginal discharge
  • dimples on breast
  • white patch in mouth or back of throat
  • lump in throat feeling when swallowing
  • changes in bowel movements
  • stomach upset and loss of appetite
  • evolving moles on skin

As you can see, most of these signs and symptoms are quite generalized. It is therefore important to check with your doctor if you notice changes in your body system.

How to know if a lump is cancerous

An effective approach you can use to tell if a lump is cancerous is by comparing it to other types of lumps. Below is a quick look of common causes and types of lumps:


Cysts are pockets or sac-like structures that form under the skin. They mostly aren’t painful. While some cysts can be hard and immovable, most will feel spongy if pressed. This is because they contain fluid or gas inside. Large cysts can reach the size of a plum but do not keep growing in mass. Sebaceous cysts are common causes of lump on the vaginal area.


Lipoma describes harmless fat cells that accumulate under skin. They feel rubbery, soft and movable to touch. You can have a single or multiple lipoma lumps.

Benign tumors

The term benign means that the described tumor will not spread or invade other body organs and tissues. It can be quite hard to tell a benign tumor from a cancerous one. Examples of benign tumors include fibromas, papillomas, moles, meningiomas, lipomas, hemangiomas, adenomas, myomas, neuromas and osteochondromas.

Swollen lymph nodes

Lymph nodes occur throughout the body. Largest groupings are located in either side of neck, groin region and armpits. They play a major role in filtering off disease causing organisms from blood. It is for this reason that they normally swell during an infection. Swollen lymph nodes form painful, pea-sized lumps. They are common causes of lump in groin female and male symptoms.

How to identify a skin cancer lump

As mentioned earlier, skin cancer is the most common type. In most cases, it develops on skin areas exposed to direct sunlight. Good examples include arms, ears, lips, face, hands and scalp. Below are the common symptoms of different types of skin cancers:

  • Melanoma – it is a deadly skin cancer that can develop anywhere on skin. The most common symptom is a mole that changes size, color, texture and shape. It can also start in form of a brownish spot or a lump with irregular borders and with multiple colors.
  • Basal cell carcinoma – it commonly occurs on areas exposed to sun such as the face. It is characterized by formation of a waxy lump. A fleshy colored or brown lesion may also occur, which resembles a scar.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma – develops on body regions exposed to sun such as hands and face. It is mostly characterized by a red nodule or a scaly flat lesion.

Skin cancer is very treatable while in its early stages. About 90% of patients diagnosed with early stage skin cancer get up to 5 years or more to deal with the disease.

This percentage drops to below 20 for advanced skin cancer cases.

Risk factors and when to see a doctor

Risk factors

  • Tobacco use
  • Exposure to UV radiation
  • Exposure to carcinogens such as radon gas, asbestos and nitrates
  • Obesity
  • Poor nutrition
  • Immune-compromising diseases
  • Old age
  • Other types of cancer

See you doctor if the lump:

  • Is hard and immovable
  • Feels or appears rough or irregular at edges
  • Has multiple colors
  • Keeps increasing in size
  • Doesn’t disappear after 2 weeks
  • Occurs in suspicious body regions such as esophagus or breast
  • Is accompanied by the signs of malignancy we have identified

Consider learning more on topics such as, should you pop a blood blister, how to identify a breast cancer lump, how to get rid of blood blisters on face and so on. They can prove very beneficial in a number of ways.