Breast cancer lumps are often the first warning sign patients see in breast cancer. However, the symptoms and signs of breast cancer can be different in each patient. For a lump to develop in breast cancer, the disease spreads to the lymph nodes beneath the collar bone and causes swelling or a lump.
Early detection of breast cancer is crucial because it improves the survival rate of patients and there are more treatment options available to patients for breast cancer in early stages. Studies show that self-exams do not increase the changes of detecting cancer, but doctors recommend that everyone is familiar with their breasts so they can report any changes in appearance or how they feel. To perform a self-exam, you want to look for changes in the overall symmetry, shape, or size of the breasts. You should inspect them while you are shirtless in front of a mirror and:
- Have your arms down by your side
- Put your hands pressed on the hips
- Raise your arms overhead with your hands together
- Lift the breasts to see if the ridges on the bottom are still symmetrical
How to Know if a Lump is Breast Cancer?
Most lumps in the breast are from noncancerous causes and some of them even go away on their own. Because there are various causes of lumps occurring in the breast, it is important to consult your doctor as soon as you notice any changes.
Lumps in the breast can occur from other causes than cancer. These lumps can result from:
- Breast cyst: often round, hard, and smooth, this dilated milk duct is filled with fluid. These can be visible before your menstrual cycle begins and will disappear or get smaller afterwards. Breast cysts can vary in size and the tissue nearby may feel tender the larger it gets.
- Fibroadenomas: These noncancerous tumors grow over time and feel smooth. Fibroadenomas are solid but move easily under the skin. These tumors are associated with hormone therapy, menstruation, or being pregnant.
- Infection or injury to the breast: When infected fluid called abscess builds up, it can cause a breast lump that is usually painful and inflames the surrounding skin. These lumps can also occur when the tissue or nerves in the breast are damaged. When this occurs, it is called fat necrosis.
- Fibrocystic breast changes: The breasts feel full, tender, and there can be lumps or areas that feel ridgelike. These changes are related to the menstrual cycles and often clear up once the cycle is finished.
How Do You Check for Breast Cancer Lumps?
It is important for women to understand the way their breasts feel and look in case there are any changes, which should be reported to their provider immediately. Women who are at risk of breast cancer should get annual mammograms and breast MRI’s starting at the age of 30. Talk to your doctor to see if you are at risk for breast cancer. If a lump is found, imaging tests will be performed to determine whether it is breast cancer or something else. Imaging tests that are used to diagnose cancer include:
- Molecular breast imaging (MBI)
What is the breast cancer lump shape?
The breast cancer lump shape can be different in each case. However, most lumps are firm and can be round, but not symmetrical. When looking at how big are breast cancer lumps compared to other lumps, they vary but can grow to be the size of a golf ball or be as small as a pea. Over time, tumors the size of a pea can grow to be larger.
What does a breast cancer lump feel like?
For most patients, a breast cancer lump feels like a rock because it is hard and round. and is not smooth like a cyst. In some cases, they are tender or soft. Surrounding the lump, the shape and size of the breast may change over time. The skin near the lump is often red in color and can be dimpled.
Where are Breast Cancer Lumps Usually Found?
The most common area for breast cancer is the upper, outer section of the breast. Breast cancer can develop anywhere throughout the tissue of the breast. Although less common, the breast cancer location can be in the tail of the breast which is near the armpit. The cancer can be right underneath the skin, or deeper in the breast’s tissue. In men, the most common site of breast tumors is behind the nipple.
Do Breast Cancer Lumps Hurt?
Breast cancer lumps are mostly painless and are usually discovered by feeling the lump or seeing it when getting dressed. Painful lumps in the breast are usually from causes that are benign. However, in some cases cancerous lumps can cause some pain or irritation.
Other Symptoms of Breast Cancer Other Than Lumps
The most common sign of breast cancer is a lump, however not all patients experience the same signs and symptoms. Some women may question “can you have breast cancer without a lump?”, and some patients do not have any. Some of the other breast cancer symptoms that are not lumps can include:
- Pain in the nipple and breast
- Skin of the breast is dry, flaking, and red
- Swelling of the breast
- Discharge from the nipple
- Nipple turning inward (retraction)
- Dimpling of the nipple’s skin, which may appear like an orange peal
Breast Cancer Clinical Trials
Many patients enroll in breast cancer clinical trials to access new studies that are seeking approval from the FDA. There are more than 30,000 clinical trials for cancer across the United States for patients of all stages and subtypes. The goal of these trials is to increase the quality of life of patients with breast cancer and to find the best possible treatment method during and after initial treatment. Clinical trial drugs often target the genetic makeup of the tumor, which can lead to fewer side effects and improved responses to therapies.