Most breast lumps aren't cancerous but see your GP if you find a lump in your breast, or have symptoms including:
- a change in the size, shape or feel of your breasts (after you have gone through puberty)
- dimpling, puckering or redness of the skin on your breast
- lumpiness or thickening of an area of your breast
- a change in your nipple, such as its shape or if it turns inwards to your breast (becomes inverted)
- a rash around your nipple area
- discharge from one or both nipples
- swelling or a lump in your armpit
- pain that doesn’t go away in one part of your breast or armpit
Breast self referral
If you are experiencing the symptoms of suspected breast cancer and have Bupa health insurance, there is usually no need for a GP referral. Call our team to speak to a specialist advisor or nurse.
Excludes some company schemes. Subject to member’s underwriting terms and any pre-existing conditions. Eligibility checks are required for pre-authorisation.
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.
- Mammogram – this is an X-ray of your breast.
- Ultrasound – this uses sound waves to produce an image of the inside of your breast.
- Fine needle aspiration or core biopsy – your doctor will use a needle to take a sample of cells from your breast, which is then sent to a laboratory to be tested.
You won't usually need treatment for the many types of benign breast lump unless the lump is causing symptoms. These lumps include small fibroadenomas, hyperplasias or lipomas. Fat necrosis lumps tend to disappear without treatment. Please have a look at the information in the Causes section for a description of these lumps.
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. Lumps called Phyllodes tumours are also usually removed.
If you have an abscess or other infection, your doctor will probably prescribe antibiotics for you. You may need to have your abscess drained through a needle or a small incision (cut).
Talk to your doctor for advice about which treatment is most suitable for you.
Benign (non cancerous) lumps in your breast can occur for a number of different reasons, some of which are explained here.
- Fibroadenoma – this is when the tissue and ducts around a milk-producing lobe grow over it and thicken. Fibroadenomas are very common, particularly in teenagers and young women.
- Hyperplasia – this is excessive growth in either the cells in the lobes of your breast or in the cells lining the ducts. Hyperplasia is usually mild, which means that the cells are very similar to healthy ones.
- Some lumps are caused by a type of hyperplasia in which the cells are abnormal – this is called atypical hyperplasia. This can slightly increase your risk of developing breast cancer so you may be advised to have the abnormal tissue removed and have regular follow-up appointments and screening.
- Phyllodes tumour – this is a rare type of growth in your breast that usually develops in women aged between 40 and 50. These tumours might be benign or malignant (cancerous) and so they are usually removed.
- Lipoma – this is a fatty lump. Lipomas feel soft and smooth and tend to grow just under the surface of your skin.
- Abscess – this is a collection of pus and infected tissue. Abscesses are often caused by an infection called mastitis that can develop in women who are breastfeeding, although there are other causes.
- Periductal mastitis – this is a condition in which there is inflammation and infection in the ducts around your nipple. You may be more at risk of this if you smoke.
- Fat necrosis – these are firm lumps that occur mostly in people with large breasts. They are often the result of a bruise or injury to your breast.
Finding a lump in your breast is a worrying thing. But most of these types of breast lump never develop into cancer. Phyllodes tumours and atypical hyperplasia are the two that can turn into cancer and so your doctor will monitor you closely. And they may advise you to have the lump removed and have regular screening afterwards.
If you're pregnant
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. Lumps which do are usually:
- a cyst
- a fibroadenoma
- a milk-filled cyst (galactocoele)
Can men get a benign breast lump?
Yes, it’s possible for men to develop a benign (non-cancerous) lump in their breast tissue. Men and women have breast tissue that develops in the same way until puberty.
Gynaecomastia is a condition in men where the breast tissue grows and a lump may be felt in the breast tissue behind the nipple. It’s common at the start of puberty because of changes in hormone levels. It can also occur in older men due to changes in hormone levels later in life. Gynaecomastia can be caused by certain medicines and illnesses.
If you're a man and you notice a change in the look or feel in the area around your breast tissue, don’t delay making an appointment with your GP. He or she may be able to tell you if you have gynaecomastia and advise you about further tests or treatment.
The tests that you will need depend on the type of breast lump you have. You may have an ultrasound scan – this uses sound waves to produce an image of the inside of your breast. If a distinct lump is found, you may be referred for a needle core biopsy – your breast surgeon will use a needle to take a sample of cells from your breast tissue. Your sample will be sent to a laboratory to be tested to determine the type of cells and whether these are benign or malignant (cancerous).
Gynaecomastia can be a symptom of other conditions, so your doctor may also want to examine your testicles, neck and abdomen (tummy). He or she may also ask you to have further tests to find out more about what is causing gynaecomastia.
You probably won’t need any treatment for gynaecomastia but your doctor may prescribe you medicines to reduce tenderness and swelling. You can have surgery for gynaecomastia but your doctor may only advise this if medicines haven’t worked or it’s having a serious impact on your life.
I've just reached the menopause. Will my breasts change because of this?
When you reach the menopause, you may notice that any lumps and/or pain that you used to have reduce or go away. But we’re all different so you may find that your breasts feel lumpier than they did before the menopause.
Menopause is the time when your periods stop for good; it's a natural stage in life for women. The average age at which women reach the menopause is 52.
As you get older, you may notice changes in the way your breasts feel. Changes in your hormone levels can mean your breasts feel less dense, softer and less firm, and they may begin to droop. Common changes to your breasts as you get older are described here.
- Intraductal papilloma is when a growth like a wart develops in one (or more) of the ducts that carry milk to your nipple. You may need to have surgery to remove it. Intraductal papillomas tend to develop in women aged over 40 and are usually benign. Occasionally, the growth may contain abnormal cells and may need to be removed.
- Duct ectasia is when a duct beneath your nipple becomes swollen and clogged. As you get older the ducts in your breasts shorten and widen and this can lead to a secretion building up in the duct. This can cause painful irritation and you may get discharge from your nipple. You may also be able to feel a lump behind your nipple. The condition is benign and usually goes away without treatment, but sometimes you may need surgery to remove the swollen duct.
What are calcium lumps – are they cancerous?
You might have heard about calcium lumps or breast calcifications and wonder what they are. These are very small so you won’t be able to see or feel them. Most of the time they are identified by chance on a routine mammogram.
Breast calcifications are usually benign but they can sometimes be an early sign of breast cancer. A radiologist will study the results of your mammogram. This is a doctor who specialises in using imaging methods to diagnose medical conditions. He or she will look at the size and shape and pattern of the spots to see if they are benign. If the results show the spots are benign, then you won’t need any treatment. Calcifications don’t cause you any pain.
If your doctor can’t be sure the calcifications are harmless, they may refer you for further tests.
- Be breast aware. NHS Breast Cancer Screening Programme. www.cancerscreening.nhs.uk, accessed March 2015
- Breast cancer symptoms. Cancer Research UK. www.cancerresearchuk.org, reviewed July 2014
- Understanding breast changes. National Cancer Institute. www.cancer.gov, published February 2014
- Benign breast disease. PatientPlus. www.patient.co.uk/patientplus.asp, reviewed March 2013
- Breast lumps and breast examination. PatientPlus. www.patient.co.uk/patientplus.asp, reviewed June 2012
- Breast cancer – suspected. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries. cks.nice.org.uk, published June 2009
- Aebi S, Davidson T, Gruber G, et al. Primary breast cancer: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up. European Society for Medical Oncology. Ann Oncol 2011; 22(6):vi12–vi24. doi:10.1093/annonc/mdr371
- Lipomas. BMJ Best Practice. www.bestpractice.bmj.com, published May 2014
- Non-cancerous breast conditions. American Cancer Society. www.cancer.org, published January 2014
- Mastitis and breast abscess. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries. cks.nice.org.uk, published May 2010
- Mastitis and breast abscess. BMJ Best Practice. www.bestpractice.bmj.com, published September 2014
- Ways to reduce cancer risk. World Cancer Research Fund. www.wcrf-hk.org, accessed March 2015
- Start active, stay active: a report on physical activity from the four home countries’ Chief Medical Officers. Department of Health. www.dh.gov.uk, 2011
- Smoking cessation. PatientPlus. www.patient.co.uk/patientplus.asp, reviewed September 2013
- Fibroadenoma. Breast Cancer Care. www.breastcancercare.org.uk, reviewed March 2014
- Breast masses (breast lumps). The Merck Manuals. www.merckmanuals.com, published October 2013
- Hyperplasia and atypical hyperplasia. Breast Cancer Care. www.breastcancercare.org.uk, reviewed February 2013
- Breast changes during and after pregnancy. Breast Cancer Care. www.breastcancercare.org.uk, reviewed August 2014
- Mammary duct ectasia and periductal mastitis. PatientPlus. www.patient.co.uk/patientplus.asp, reviewed April 2012
- Pregnancy and breast cancer. Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. www.rcog.org.uk, published March 2011
- Gynecomastia. Medscape. www.emedicine.medscape.com, published May 2014
- Gynecomastia. PatientPlus. www.patient.co.uk/patientplus.asp, reviewed October 2014
- Gynecomastia. The Merck Manual. www.merckmanuals.com, published December 2014
- Your breasts, your health – throughout your life. Breast Cancer Care. www.breastcancercare.org.uk, reviewed April 2014
- NHS Breast Cancer Screening Programme. www.cancerscreening.nhs.uk, accessed March 2015
- Breast disease. Oxford handbook of general practice (online). Oxford Medicine Online. www.oxfordmedicine.com, published April 2014
- Menopause. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries, cks.nice.org.uk, published February 2015
- Breast calcifications. Breast Cancer Care. www.breastcancercare.org.uk, reviewed February 2014
- Imaging of breast calcifications. Medscape. www.emedicine.medscape.com, published 11 November 2013
- Chen P, Ghosh ET, Slantez PJ, et al. Segmental breast calcifications. Am J Roentgenol 2012; 199:W535–45. doi:10.2214/AJR.11.8198
We’d love to know what you think about what you’ve just been reading and looking at – we’ll use it to improve our information. If you’d like to give us some feedback, our short form below will take just a few minutes to complete. And if there's a question you want to ask that hasn't been answered here, please submit it to us. Although we can't respond to specific questions directly, we’ll aim to include the answer to it when we next review this topic.
Let us know what you think using our short feedback form Ask us a question
Reviewed by Natalie Heaton, Bupa Health Content Team, March 2015.
Let us know what you think using our short feedback form Ask us a question
About our health information
At Bupa we produce a wealth of free health information for you and your family. We believe that trustworthy information is essential in helping you make better decisions about your health and care. Here are just a few of the ways in which our core editorial principles have been recognised.
We are certified by the Information Standard. This quality mark identifies reliable, trustworthy producers and sources of health information.
What our readers say about us
But don't just take our word for it; here's some feedback from our readers.
“Simple and easy to use website - not alarming, just helpful.”
“It’s informative but not too detailed. I like that it’s factual and realistic about the conditions and the procedures involved. It’s also easy to navigate to areas that you specifically want without having to read all the information.”
“Good information, easy to find, trustworthy.”
Meet the team
Head of Health Content
- Dylan Merkett – Lead Editor
- Graham Pembrey - Lead Editor
- Natalie Heaton – Specialist Editor, User Experience
- Pippa Coulter – Specialist Editor, Content Library
- Alice Rossiter – Specialist Editor, Insights (on Maternity Leave)
- Laura Blanks – Specialist Editor, Quality
- Michelle Harrison – Specialist Editor, Insights
Our core principles
All our health content is produced in line with our core editorial principles – readable, reliable, relevant – which are represented by our diagram.
In a nutshell, our information is jargon-free, concise and accessible. We know our audience and we meet their health information needs, helping them to take the next step in their health and wellbeing journey.
We use the best quality and most up-to-date evidence to produce our information. Our process is transparent and validated by experts – both our users and medical specialists.
We know that our users want the right information at the right time, in the way that suits them. So we review our content at least every three years to keep it fresh. And we’re embracing new technology and social media so they can get it whenever and wherever they choose.
Here are just a few of the ways in which the quality of our information has been recognised.
The Information Standard certification scheme
You will see the Information Standard quality mark on our content. This is a certification programme, supported by NHS England, that was developed to ensure that public-facing health and care information is created to a set of best practice principles.
It uses only recognised evidence sources and presents the information in a clear and balanced way. The Information Standard quality mark is a quick and easy way for you to identify reliable and trustworthy producers and sources of information.
Certified by the Information Standard as a quality provider of health and social care information. Bupa shall hold responsibility for the accuracy of the information they publish and neither the Scheme Operator nor the Scheme Owner shall have any responsibility whatsoever for costs, losses or direct or indirect damages or costs arising from inaccuracy of information or omissions in information published on the website on behalf of Bupa.
British Medical Association (BMA) patient information awards
We have received a number of BMA awards for different assets over the years. Most recently, in 2013, we received a 'commended' award for our online shared decision making hub.
If you have any feedback on our health information, we would love to hear from you. Please contact us via email: email@example.com. Or you can write to us:
Health Content Team
Battle Bridge House
300 Grays Inn Road