The American Cancer Society (ACS) says that for women in the United States, breast cancer is a common type of cancer, second only to skin cancer. And the chance of developing breast cancer goes up as you get older. Even so, it may help to know that most breast lumps turn out to be benign cysts or tumors.
In this article, we’ll discuss movable lumps in your breast, what can cause them, and why it’s best to call your doctor when you notice changes to your breasts.
All breast lumps should be examined by a doctor. Lumps you can easily move with the pads of your fingers are not usually cancerous. There are quite a few things that can cause moveable lumps in your breast.
According to Breastcancer.org, about 50 percent of women experience fibrocystic changes — they’re pretty common. Hormone fluctuations cause the formation of fluid-filled cysts in one or both breasts. These lumps may feel firm or rubbery. Other symptoms can include:
- nipple discharge
Fibrocystic changes are not cancerous, nor do they require treatment. These changes usually go away after menopause.
Fibroadenomas are benign tumors made up of fibrous and glandular tissue. The lumps are solid and usually move quite easily. They can be smooth and firm, or they can feel rather rubbery. Fibroadenomas are usually painless. They’re not cancerous, but may require treatment.
Breast cysts form when there’s a buildup of fluid. They’re sometimes caused by a blocked milk duct. They can be round or oval and feel soft or hard. Other symptoms may include:
Cysts are usually benign and most don’t require treatment.
Papillomas are small wart-like lumps that develop in the lining of your mammary ducts, usually near your nipple. Other symptoms may include discomfort and nipple discharge. They’re not cancerous, but you may need surgery to remove them.
A breast abscess is an accumulation of pus due to infection. Symptoms can include:
- soreness, pain
- redness or discoloration, warm skin, swelling
- nipple discharge
- fever, chills, fatigue
You’ll probably need treatment for the abscess and the infection that caused it.
A round, firm lump can be due to breast fat necrosis. That’s a condition in which there is damage to fatty tissues in your breast. This can happen when you have very large breasts, or an injury to your breasts. It can also be due to prior lumpectomy and radiation for a cancerous lump. But necrosis is not cancer.
Sclerosing adenosis is an overgrowth of tissue in breast lobules. It can be difficult to tell the difference between this and breast cancer, so they’re usually removed through surgical biopsy.
A lipoma is a harmless growth of fatty tissue. These lumps are soft and easy to move with your fingers. They also tend to develop just under your skin.
Breast cancer lumps tend to be immoveable. They’re usually hard, have irregular edges, and are painless. But that’s not always the case. Some breast cancer lumps are painful and they can sometimes be soft, round, or moveable.
Other signs of breast cancer are:
- swelling and redness or discoloration
- skin that dimples, thickens, or flakes
- breast or nipple pain
- nipple retraction or discharge
- swollen lymph nodes under your arm or around your collar bone
If you discover a lump or have other breast changes, schedule an appointment with a primary care doctor or gynecologist. The sooner you get that on the schedule, the sooner you’ll have answers.
A doctor will likely begin with a physical examination. That may be enough to offer a clue as to what type of lump you have. Your doctor may also order an imaging test, such as a:
If physical examination and imaging aren’t enough to diagnose the health concern, the next step is biopsy. This is a procedure that removes a sample of tissue or fluid from the suspicious area so it can be examined under a microscope. A pathologist will analyze the sample to see if it contains cancer cells.
By performing a monthly breast self-exam, you’ll get to know how your breasts normally look and feel. It may help you notice small changes early on. Although you may have some idea what’s causing a lump or other abnormality, you can’t know for certain. That’s why it’s important to talk with a doctor about your concerns.
When it comes to breast cancer screening, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends a mammogram every 2 years for average-risk women between 50 to 74 years old. Younger women, or those with a higher chance of developing the condition, may want to start screening earlier.
The ACS recommends yearly mammography for women between 45 to 54 years old, and then every other year. But it’s also important to know that the age of starting screening mammograms is a controversial topic. The American College of Radiology (ACR) recommends starting annual screening mammograms at 40 years old. The ACR also recommends women have a risk assessment at 30 years old to determine when they should start having mammograms.
If you haven’t started breast cancer screening yet, it’s worth a discussion with your doctor. Together, you can assess your breast cancer risk factors and decide when to start.
Depending on your age, screening mammograms may not be covered on all health insurance policies. Be sure to check first so you’re not caught off guard.
Most breast lumps, especially movable ones, are not cancerous. But because you can’t tell by touch alone, it’s important to have breast lumps examined by a doctor.
Self-monitoring and breast cancer screening tests can help find breast cancer early, before it has the chance to spread. Talk with a doctor about your breast cancer risk factors and to set up a screening schedule that works for you.