Breast lumps are common and have a number of different causes. Although most lumps aren't breast cancer, any unusual changes to the breasts should be checked by a GP as soon as possible. Men can also get breast cancer, although it is much less common in men than women.
Common types of benign breast lump
There are several types of benign (non-cancerous) breast lump, most of which are harmless. They are caused by hormonal changes that occur at different times in a woman's life, such as during the menstrual cycle.
If your GP finds a lump on examination, they will routinely refer you to be seen by a hospital specialist.
Common types of benign breast lump include:
- a fibroadenoma – a firm lump that moves around easily in the breast and is more common in younger women
- a breast cyst – a smooth, firm fluid-filled lump most commonly seen in women aged 30 to 60
- a breast abscess – a painful collection of pus that forms under the skin of the breast, usually as the result of a bacterial infection
Checking your breasts
It's important to be "breast aware". This is so you can identify any problems in your breasts and get them checked out as soon as possible.
Breast aware means:
- being familiar with your breasts
- knowing what is normal for them
- examining them regularly for any changes
If you are a woman 50 years or over, it's also important to go to breast cancer screening appointments every three years. At the appointment, a type of X-ray called a mammogram will be carried out to look for early signs of cancer.
But don't wait until your next screening appointment if you notice any problems in your breast, see your GP right away. Screening is necessary in women as a breast cancer can be more difficult to detect amongst breast tissue.
In men, a breast lump will be more easily recognised. Any unusual lump appearing should be checked with your GP, if you do not know what it is.
Seeing your GP
It is important you see your GP as soon as possible if you notice a lump in your breasts so a cause can be confirmed. Finding a lump in your breast can be a worry. However, around 90 per cent of breast lumps are benign (not cancer).
You also should see your GP if you notice any other changes to one or both of your breasts, such as:
- an area of thickened tissue
- nipple discharge, which may contain blood
- a change in the size or shape of your breasts
- dimpling on the skin of your breasts
- a rash on or around your nipples
- a change in your nipple's appearance – for example, becoming sunken into your breast
- persistent pain in your breasts or armpits
- a lump or swelling in your armpits
Your GP will ask you about your symptoms and will then ask your permission to examine your breasts. You should also be asked whether you'd like another staff member – such as a practice nurse – to be present while your breast is being examined.
Your GP may then refer you for further tests, such as an ultrasound scan and mammogram, to find out the cause.
Being referred for further testing can be scary. But it does not necessarily mean your GP thinks you have breast cancer. Most people who have these further tests are eventually found to have a benign condition.
How breast lumps are treated
Benign breast lumps do not necessarily require any treatment.
However, treatment may be recommended if:
- the lump is particularly large
- is getting bigger
- is causing other symptoms such as pain
Medication can often help relieve breast pain. Antibiotics can treat any bacterial infections that may have caused the lump to develop.
In some cases, a needle may need to be used to drain away any fluid or pus within the breast lump. Local anaesthetic will be used to numb the area being treated.
Occasionally, surgery may be carried out to cut out the lump. This will normally be done under general anaesthetic (where you are asleep). You will usually be able to go home the same day.
More useful links
- How to use your health services
- Breast screening
- Breast screening – Public Health Agency website
- Breast cancer in men
The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.
For further information see terms and conditions.