February 27, 2024

Understanding Breast Lumps: Types and Sensations Explained

woman self examination of breast

Breast health is crucial to overall well-being, and understanding breast lumps is paramount in maintaining optimal health and wellness. While discovering a breast lump can cause feelings of concern and uncertainty, lumps can occur for various reasons, and often, they turn out to be benign. Knowing what to look for and what to expect for both benign and malignant lumps can provide assurance and assist your doctor in diagnosing.

Let’s explore the types and sensations of breast lumps, delve into the characteristics of benign and malignant lumps, address whether breast lumps are painful, provide insights on conducting breast self-exams, and more so you can feel more confident about your health.

What Does a Breast Cancer Lump Feel Like?

Benign and malignant breast lumps differ in several key aspects, including their nature, characteristics, and potential impact on health. Understanding these differences is crucial for early detection, proper diagnosis, and effective treatment.

Benign Breast Lump Causes

Benign breast lumps are typically non-cancerous, meaning they do not spread to other parts of the body. Fortunately, most breast lumps are benign. Common causes of benign breast lumps include cysts and fibroadenomas.

Benign breast lumps tend to have well-defined edges that make them easier to distinguish from surrounding tissue. They are often movable and may fluctuate in size based on a person’s menstrual cycle. 

Warning Signs of Malignant Breast Lumps

Malignant breast lumps are cancerous lumps that have the potential to spread to nearby tissue, lymph nodes, and organs. They may grow faster than benign breast lumps as the cancer cells divide more quickly. Some common warning signs of malignant lumps include:

  • Irregular or jagged edges
  • Fixed to surrounding structures; not easily movable
  • Hard and/or painless lump

While malignant breast lumps often have the above characteristics, it’s important to keep in mind that malignant lumps may also appear as soft, round, or tender. Your doctor can determine what type of breast lump you have through a physical exam, imaging tests, and a biopsy, if warranted.

If a lump indicates breast cancer, your doctor will recommend a treatment plan based on your diagnosis. At Premier Surgical Network, we provide breast cancer surgery, including lumpectomy and mastectomy, to remove cancer when necessary. Our highly skilled surgeons are experienced in advanced techniques, including the hidden scar approach and nipple-sparing mastectomy.

Are Breast Lumps Painful?

Breast lumps can vary in terms of associated pain or discomfort. Understanding whether a lump is painful or non-painful is essential to the diagnostic process.

Painful Lumps

  • Cyclic Pain: Some women may experience cyclic breast pain related to hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle. This pain is often linked to benign conditions and does not necessarily indicate a serious issue.
  • Infection or Inflammation: Painful lumps may also be associated with infections or inflammation in the breast tissue. Conditions such as mastitis or abscesses can cause localized pain.

 Non-Painful Lumps

  • Benign Growth: Many benign lumps, such as fibroadenomas or cysts, are not typically associated with pain. These lumps may be discovered incidentally during a self-exam or clinical evaluation.
  • Malignant Lumps: While breast cancer lumps can be non-painful, some individuals may experience discomfort or tenderness. It’s essential to note that the absence of pain does not rule out the possibility of malignancy.

How To Do A Breast Self Exam

Step 1: Choose a Regular Time

  • Perform the self-exam at the same time each month. The ideal time is typically a few days after your menstrual period when breasts are less likely to be swollen or tender. For postmenopausal women, choose a specific day each month.

Step 2: Stand in Front of a Mirror

  • Stand in front of a mirror with your arms at your sides. Take note of the shape, size, and color of your breasts. Look for any visible changes, such as dimpling, puckering, or changes in skin texture.

Step 3: Raise Your Arms and Observe

  • Raise your arms overhead and observe your breasts in the mirror. Look for changes in the shape and contour of your breasts and any signs of swelling, redness, or abnormalities.

Step 4: Inspect Your Breasts While Lying Down

  • Lie down on your back and place a pillow under your right shoulder. Raise your right arm behind your head. Use the pads of your three middle fingers on your left hand to check your right breast.

Step 5: Use a Pattern to Examine Your Breast

  • Use a circular or wedge-like pattern to examine your entire breast. Apply light, medium, and firm pressure systematically, covering the entire breast and armpit area.

Step 6: Examine Each Section Methodically

  • Examine each section methodically, covering the entire breast. Pay attention to any lumps, thickening, or hardened knots. Note any changes in texture.

Step 7: Check Nipples and Areolas

  • Check your nipples for any discharge, changes in direction, or inversion. Also, examine the areolas for any abnormalities or changes in color.

Step 8: Repeat on the Other Breast

  • Repeat the process on your left breast, using your right hand to examine. Remember to use a systematic pattern to ensure you cover the entire breast.

Step 9: Stand Up and Check for Changes

  • Finally, stand up and observe your breasts in the mirror again. Take note of any changes you observed during the lying-down portion of the exam.

Step 10: Report Any Changes to Your Healthcare Provider

  • If you notice any changes, lumps, or abnormalities during your self-exam, promptly report them to your healthcare provider.

Expert Insights on Breast Lumps

Understanding breast lumps is a crucial aspect of proactive breast health management. Whether exploring the characteristics of benign and malignant lumps, considering the painful or non-painful nature of lumps, learning how to conduct breast self-exams, or seeking expert insights, the New Jersey breast cancer doctors at Premier Surgical Network is committed to providing comprehensive information and resources to empower individuals in their journey toward optimal breast health. Remember, early detection and professional guidance are pivotal for maintaining and safeguarding breast health.