Most breast lumps are benign. A benign breast lump is more likely to be tender and have a defined shape. But it’s not possible to know whether a lump is benign based on how it feels. See your doctor if you notice a new lump.

Breast lumps are common and happen for many reasons. Often, a breast lump is benign, meaning it’s noncancerous. Many other conditions can cause breast lumps and people don’t usually need treatment for a benign lump.

However, it’s not easy to tell if a breast lump is benign or cancerous without a thorough evaluation.

Below, we cover more details about benign breast lumps, including what they may feel like, their causes, and how to know if they’re benign.

It’s not always obvious whether a breast lump is benign or cancerous just from a self-exam. However, there are some subtle differences that may indicate a benign breast lump.

A benign breast lump can feel many different ways to the touch, depending on the cause. For example, they may:

  • range in feel from soft to firm
  • feel rubbery
  • be movable
  • feel round or oval-shaped with well-defined borders
  • feel tender or slightly painful

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), breast cancer lumps are more likely to be painless and feel hard with irregular edges. However, the ACS also notes that it’s possible for it to feel tender or painful, soft, or round as well.

Because of this, it’s important to see your doctor for any new breast lump that you find during a self-exam. They can do further tests to help determine if your lump is benign or cancerous.

You can’t tell for sure that a breast lump is benign without further evaluation from your doctor. If you notice a new breast lump during a breast self-exam, make an appointment with your doctor to discuss it.

Many benign breast conditions that cause breast lumps are associated with pain or tenderness. In contrast, breast cancer causes pain less often.

When you meet with your doctor, they’ll review your medical history. They’ll likely ask about:

Your doctor will then do a breast exam, during which they evaluate both of your breasts. They’ll note various features of your breast lump, such as its:

  • size
  • location in your breast
  • consistency or texture
  • mobility

Imaging tests will also be ordered to further assess your breast lump. These can include a mammogram, ultrasound, or both. If imaging suggests your lump may be cancerous, a breast biopsy can be done to check a sample of cells for the presence of cancer.

There are many potential causes of benign breast lumps. These include:

  • breast cysts, which are closed sacs that are often filled with fluid
  • fibrocystic breast changes, where your breasts have areas of fibrous tissue and cysts
  • fibroadenoma, a type of benign breast tumor
  • intraductal papilloma, where wart-like growths develop in the breast ducts
  • adenosis, a condition where the lobules of the breast are enlarged and can cause lumps or lumpiness
  • fat necrosis, when a lump happens due to an injury affecting the fatty tissue of the breast
  • lipomas, benign tumors made up of fat cells
  • hematomas, a pool of clotted blood in the breast tissue that may often, but not always, be due to a recent injury or surgery
  • benign phyllodes tumors, a rare type of breast tumor, most of which are benign

While anyone can have a benign breast condition that causes breast lumps, some may be at a higher risk of developing them. The risk factors for these conditions vary based on the specific condition and several other factors.

For example, a 2021 study examined 61,617 Swedish women between the ages of 40 and 69 who had mammograms to screen for breast cancer. Some of its findings included that:

  • premenopausal women with a family history of breast cancer were more likely to develop benign breast conditions
  • premenopausal women who had not had children had an increased risk of cysts compared with women who had three or more children
  • postmenopausal women using hormone replacement therapy were at a higher risk of cysts and fibrocystic changes.

Many breast lumps that are found to be benign don’t need any immediate treatment. When treatment for these lumps is necessary, it may involve:

  • using a thin hollow needle to drain painful cysts
  • applying heat or using over-the-counter medication to reduce pain
  • wearing a well-fitted, supportive bra to minimize discomfort

If you have a benign breast lump that isn’t removed, your doctor may still want to follow up with you periodically to make sure that the lump hasn’t changed in any way.

Sometimes, a benign breast lump, such as a fibroadenoma or a benign phyllodes tumor, will be removed. Examples of when this may happen is if the lump:

It’s also possible that a biopsy may find atypical cells in your breast lump. These cells aren’t cancer, but still don’t appear normal under a microscope. In this situation, your doctor will likely recommend removing the lump.

Benign breast conditions and breast cancer risk

There are certain benign breast conditions that are linked with an increased risk of breast cancer. These are called proliferative lesions and are characterized by excessive growth of cells.

Proliferative lesions may or may not have atypia, which is where cells appear abnormal under a microscope. When atypia is present, cancer risk is higher. These types of conditions include atypical ductal and atypical lobular hyperplasia.

Breast cancer risk is increased only slightly for proliferative lesions without atypia. These include:

  • fibroadenoma
  • papillomatosis, which is when several papillomas are present
  • radial scar
  • sclerosing adenosis
  • usual ductal hyperplasia
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Most breast lumps are benign, which means they’re not cancerous. Benign breast lumps are more likely to be tender or painful. They also often have a well-defined shape and can feel movable.

There are many things that can cause a benign breast lump. Some common ones include breast cysts, fibrocystic changes, and fibroadenoma.

It’s not possible to tell if a breast lump is cancerous or not just by feeling it. If you notice a new breast lump during a breast self-exam, it’s vital that you meet with your doctor so they can evaluate it.

There are a variety of tests that can help determine whether or not a breast lump is benign. These include imaging tests and, if necessary, analysis of a biopsy sample.