7 Things That Can Cause a Lump in Your Breast, According to Experts

It's probably not cancer–but that doesn't mean you can ignore a lump in your breast.

Delight view on woman bust covered by hand. Breast cancer concept.
Photo: Adobe Stock

According to the American Cancer Society, 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. However, if you feel a lump, it is important to know what factors may be causing this change in the texture of your breast tissue - as cancer may not always be the culprit. Here are seven reasons why a lump may develop in the breast, and what to do if you suspect you may be experiencing one of these issues.

01 of 07


Woman giving herself a Breast Exam

Intraductal papillomas are benign or non-cancerous wart-like tumors that grow in the milk ducts of the breast, according to the American Cancer Society. They're made up of gland and fibrous tissue as well as blood vessels that grow in the milk ducts and can cause lumps near the nipple.

Papillomas may also cause a clear or bloody discharge from the nipple, and they are most common among women ages 35 to 55. Your doctor will surgically remove the papilloma, along with the part of the duct it grew in.

Having just one papilloma usually doesn't carry a higher risk of breast cancer. Your cancer risk may be raised, though, if you have more than one, if you develop them at an early age, if there are abnormal cells in the papilloma, and if you have a family history of cancer.

02 of 07

Your period

Period or PMS breast pain and lump
Elenaleonova/Getty Images

Many women get lumps and other changes in their breasts before and during their period, the National Cancer Institute says. Those changes can make your breasts feel swollen, tender, or painful. You may also feel one or more lumps in your breast or breasts during this time because of extra fluid.

Period-related lumps often come with achiness in both breasts. Try over-the-counter pain meds or creams and make sure your bras fit well to limit the discomfort. Some women also swear that cutting back on caffeine helps, but the evidence is spotty.

03 of 07


Woman getting a mammogram breast cancer screening exam
choja/Getty Images

Fibroadenomas are benign, or non-cancerous, tumors of the breast, according to the US National Library of Medicine's MedlinePlus resource. They're most common in girls who are going through puberty or women who are pregnant.

These fibroadenomas are made up of breast gland tissue and connective tissue, and they often feel firm and rubbery, and are easily moveable under the skin. They're also usually painless.

Doctors can often tell if a lump is a fibroadenoma from either an ultrasound or a mammogram. Fibroadenomas may be left in place or surgically removed—the latter of which usually happens when biopsy results are unclear or the lump grows larger.

04 of 07

Fibrocystic breast changes

Fibrosis cysts and fibrocystic breast changes

According to the American Cancer Society, many breast lumps turn out to be caused by fibrosis and/or cysts. These non-cancerous, or benign, changes in breast tissue are called fibrocystic changes, and they're most common in women of child-bearing age—usually in their 30s or 40s—but can affect women at any age.

Breast fibrosis means you have extra connective tissue in your breast that can feel lumpy. This is the same kind of tissue that makes up ligaments and scar tissue.

Cysts are small fluid-filled sacs, which are usually round and can also move around your breast. They can hurt, and the pain often gets worse before your period. Cysts go hand-in-hand with fibrosis.

No one knows what causes these fibrocystic breast changes, though experts believe they may be linked with monthly hormones.

Fibrocystic breast changes don't raise your risk of breast cancer. However, if an ultrasound reveals that a cyst contains both fluid and solid matter, or only solid matter, you have what's called a complex cyst. These growths need to be biopsied, as they may up your breast cancer risk slightly.

05 of 07

Fat necrosis

Woman wearing seatbelt across her chest
Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images

Necrosis means fat tissue has died, typically due to an injury–like your seatbelt cutting into your breast or being jabbed by an elbow. Surgery and radiation can also result in fat necrosis.

This kind of breast lump isn't cancer, but it can feel that way. "Sometimes it will feel like a rock-hard mass," says Therese Bevers, MD, medical director of the Cancer Prevention Center at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. "This can be kind of scary."

It may be even scarier if the damage doesn't show up for a year or two after the original injury, by which time you may have forgotten about the incident.

Head to the doctor to check it out–but if it is fat necrosis, you'll usually leave it alone. "It probably would create more problems if you take it out," says Dr. Bevers. "Surgery itself is trauma. The concern is you might create another lump."

To get our top stories delivered to your inbox, sign up for the Healthy Living newsletter

06 of 07

Phyllodes tumors

Woman doing breast self exam feeling lump
PoisonedHeart/Getty Images

Phyllodes tumors are a rare type of lump representing only 1% of all breast tumors. They grow in leaf-shaped patterns, hence their name from the Greek for "leaflike."

"A phyllodes mass may be a little bit more lumpy and have multiple nodules," says Dr. Bevers. Most common among women in their 40s, phyllodes tumors don't typically hurt.

While most of these growths are benign and don't increase the risk of cancer, they do need to come out. "Phyllodes tumors will grow uncontrollably," says Dr. Bevers. About 10% of phyllodes tumors are cancerous, but they don't usually respond to radiation, chemotherapy, or hormonal breast cancer treatments.

Surgeons usually take out some of the tissue around a benign phyllodes tumor to reduce the chance of it coming back. If the tumor is cancerous, treatment is either a lumpectomy or a mastectomy.

07 of 07

Breast cancer

Female holding tablet in front of body to display coloured x-ray illustrations made out of hand made paper structures
Getty Images

A lump or mass in your breast is the most common symptom of breast cancer, the American Cancer Society says. These lumps are usually hard and painless, though some can be painful at times.

But not all types of breast cancer present with a lump: Dr. Bevers says a type of cancer called invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC) often presents as a lump—"if [it's] large enough to be palpable," she says. Another type of breast cancer, invasive lobular carcinoma (ILC) may also less often present as a lump.

If you do find a lump in your breast at any time—even following an annual wellness visit or mammogram—don't hesitate to let your ob-gyn know so they can decide any necessary next steps.

To get our top stories delivered to your inbox, sign up for the Healthy Living newsletter

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles