Breast lump 

Introduction 

The breast

The female breast is a complex gland made up of several different types of tissue. Each breast contains milk glands and milk ducts for transporting milk. These can increase or decrease in both size and number as and when they are needed.

For example, during pregnancy the milk ducts in the breasts grow and the breasts get larger. During breastfeeding, the breasts may change size several times throughout the day as milk is produced and the baby feeds.

The breast is also made up of:

  • fibrous connective tissue
  • fatty tissue
  • nerves
  • blood vessels
  • lymph nodes (small oval-shaped glands that remove unwanted bacteria and particles from the body)

All these can react differently to changes in the hormone levels in the body, affecting both the sensitivity and texture of the breast.

Breast cancer symptoms

Not all breast changes mean breast cancer, but some do. Know what to look out for, such as changes in shape

Breast lumps are a common condition and have a number of different causes. While most lumps are not breast cancer, any unusual changes to the breasts should be checked by a GP as soon as possible.

There are several types of benign (non-cancerous) breast lump. They can vary in appearance or texture depending on the type. Most breast lumps are caused by hormonal changes that occur at different times in a woman’s life, such as during the menstrual cycle when a woman gets her monthly period.

Some of the most common benign breast lumps include:

  • a breast cyst - a fluid-filled lump most common in pre-menopausal women and those who take hormone replacement therapy
  • a fibroadenoma - a benign firm lump in the breast more common in younger women, for instance those in their twenties

Read more information about the causes of a breast lump.

When to see your GP

It is important you see your GP as soon as possible if you notice changes to your breasts. Finding a lump in your breast can be a worry, but most breast lumps are benign and will not require treatment. 

Read about the signs and symptoms of a breast lump for more information.

It is also important to be 'breast aware' to help you notice any changes and get them checked as soon as possible.

Read about preventing breast lumps for information on being breast aware and breast screening.

Who is affected?

Breast lumps are quite common. Every year in the UK, about three in every 100 women visit their GP regarding a problem with their breasts. Most breast lumps, about nine out of 10, are benign.

Treating a breast lump

If your breasts are painful, medication can help ease the pain. In some types of lump, such as a cyst or abscess, there can be fluid that may need draining. 

In some cases, surgery may be required to remove a lump. However, this is not usually necessary unless the lump is large, growing or causing other symptoms.

Read more information about treating a breast lump.

Page last reviewed: 07/08/2012

Next review due: 07/08/2014

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