Depending on the underlying cause, the way breast lumps look or feel can vary. Some breast lumps may also cause other symptoms.
When to see your GP
You should see your GP if you notice any changes to your breasts such as:
- a lump or area of thickened tissue in either breast
- discharge from either of your nipples (which may be streaked with blood)
- a lump or swelling in either of your armpits
- a change in the size or shape of one or both of your breasts
- dimpling on the skin of your breasts
- a rash on or around your nipple
- a change in your nipple’s appearance, for example, if it becomes sunken into your breast
- pain in either of your breasts or armpits that is not related to your period
Is a breast lump serious?
While you should always see your GP about any changes to your breasts, benign (non-cancerous) breast lumps:
- do not increase your risk of developing breast cancer in the future
- will not turn into breast cancer
Some breast lumps, such as breast abscesses (infected collection of fluid or pus), can be painful and others, such as fibroadenomas, may feel quite large. However, most breast lumps do not require any treatment.
Types of breast lumps
Common types of breast lumps include:
- breast cysts
- breast abscesses
- fat necrosis (caused by damage to fatty tissue in the breast)
These types of breast lumps and their symptoms are explained below.
Fibrocystic breast disease, also known as fibroadenosis, is a term used to describe a group of benign conditions that affect the breast. The symptoms of fibroadenosis include:
- breast pain (mastalgia)
- increase in breast size
- lumpiness of the breast (nodularity), particularly just before or during a period
Fibroadenosis can develop in one or both breasts, or can affect just part of one breast. The symptoms can also vary significantly between women, with some women finding them slightly annoying and others finding them very painful. The pain and lumpiness will usually disappear after your period.
The cause of fibroadenosis is not well understood. However, it may be the result of the breast tissue responding abnormally to hormonal changes that occur with the menstrual cycle.
A fibroadenoma is a smooth, well-rounded solid lump that sometimes develops outside the milk ducts. Milk ducts are the tiny tubes in the breast that carry milk.
Fibroadenomas are made up of fibrous and glandular tissue, which has a rubber-like texture and moves easily when touched.
A fibroadenoma will sometimes disappear, but it can remain and grow larger, particularly during pregnancy.
A breast cyst is a fluid-filled sac that develops within the breast tissue and may feel like a soft grape. Breast cysts are common and normal. Cysts form as a natural part of the ageing of breast tissue and are most commonly found in women aged 35-50 years old.
Cysts vary in size. Some can be tiny, while others can grow to several centimetres in diameter. Single or multiple cysts can occur in one or both breasts.
Cysts often do not cause any symptoms, although some women may experience pain, particularly if the cyst increases in size during the menstrual cycle. They do not significantly increase the risk of breast cancer developing.
A breast abscess is a painful collection of pus that forms under the skin of the breast. It can also cause:
- a high temperature (fever) of 38°C (100.4°F) or above
- inflammation (redness and swelling)
Read more information about a breast abscess.