A breast lump is a swelling or thickening in your breast. Breast lumps are common and nine out of 10 are benign (not cancerous).
Your breasts are made up of fat, connective tissue, glandular tissue (glands) and ducts. The glandular tissue is in the form of lobes that are connected to your nipple by ducts to produce and deliver milk if you have a baby.
A 'tail' of breast tissue extends into your armpit. Your armpits also contain lymph nodes – these are glands that are found throughout your body and form part of your immune system.
There are many different types of benign breast lump. Common ones include:
Sometimes normal parts of your breast can feel like a lump – this may vary throughout your menstrual cycle, with your breasts feeling lumpier just before or during your period.
Most breast lumps aren't cancerous but see your GP if you find a lump in your breast, or have symptoms including:
Lumps in your breast can occur for a number of different reasons, some of which are explained here.
If you're pregnant, one of the first changes you may notice is that your breasts feel different. This is caused by an increase in progesterone (one of the female hormones) and growth of your milk ducts.
It’s possible that your breasts will feel sore or tender, and they may increase in size. Sometimes benign breast lumps can develop or enlarge during pregnancy, and these may include a:
Breast cancer is rare during pregnancy but if you're aware of a definite, localised lump or have any symptoms that you’re concerned about, see your GP.
Your GP will ask you about your symptoms and examine you. It’s possible that your GP will ask you to come back for another appointment after a couple of weeks – this is because some lumps go away as your menstrual cycle progresses.
If you have a breast lump, you will usually need to have further tests. Your GP may refer you to a doctor at a hospital or specialist breast clinic to have these. The tests you need will depend on your symptoms and age. Commonly used tests are listed below.
You won't usually need treatment for small fibroadenomas, hyperplasias or lipomas unless they are causing symptoms. Fat necrosis lumps tend to disappear without treatment. However, you may need treatment for other types of benign breast lump.
If you have a cyst, it can be drained (aspirated) with a needle and you won't usually need further treatment.
Larger breast lumps are usually removed to prevent them getting any bigger, as are Phyllodes tumours.
If you have an abscess or other infection, you will probably be given antibiotics. You may also need to have your abscess drained through a small incision (cut).
Your doctor can give you advice about which treatment is most suitable for you.
There isn't much reliable evidence about whether lifestyle and diet changes will increase or decrease your chance of getting a benign breast lump. However, in the long-term, you can reduce your risk of certain diseases, including some cancers, by:
Produced by Polly Kerr, Bupa Health Information Team, August 2013.
For answers to frequently asked questions on this topic, see FAQs.
For sources and links to further information, see Resources.
This information was published by Bupa's Health Information Team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been reviewed by appropriate medical or clinical professionals. Photos are only for illustrative purposes and do not reflect every presentation of a condition. The content is intended only for general information and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional. For more details on how we produce our content and its sources, visit the about our health information page.
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