Armpit Lump: What To Do if You Find One

Finding a lump in your armpit can be worrisome. Most of the time it's nothing serious, but might still be something to get checked out.

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Finding a lump in your armpit can be worrisome. After all, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS), it is sometimes a symptom of breast cancer. Most of the time, however, a lump in the armpit is nothing serious and will go away on its own or with treatment.

If you find a lump in your armpit, here are a few possible things it could be and some ideas for treating it.

Ingrown Hair

Does the lump look red and inflamed or filled with pus? If so, it may be an ingrown hair or infected follicle from shaving or using antiperspirant, said Roshini Rajapaksa, MD, clinical associate professor of medicine at the NYU School of Medicine and a Health medical editor.

According to JAMA Dermatology, ingrown hairs, technically called pseudofolliculitis barbae, and also referred to as razor or shaving bumps, occur after shaving when the hairs curve back and re-enter or grow under the skin. They are more likely to happen with curly hair.

The best option for healing ingrown hairs is to avoid shaving and applying products in that area, said Dr. Rajapaksa, who also recommended cleaning the area gently with soap and applying warm compresses several times a day for a few days to allow it to heal.

Are you tempted to pluck the hair? JAMA Dermatology recommends avoiding plucking the ingrown hair, as it increases the chances of the new hair growing back into the skin. If avoiding shaving isn't an option, it is recommended that you shave daily using the following steps:

  • Wash the area with a gentle cleanser.
  • Apply a warm compress to the area for about five minutes.
  • Apply shaving cream and allow it to sit for several minutes.
  • Shave with short strokes in the direction of hair growth, avoiding shaving over the same area multiple times; also avoid stretching the skin.
  • When finished shaving, apply a cool compress to the area.
  • Store your razor in a cool, dry place and avoid using the same blade more than five times.

If you frequently experience ingrown hairs and want a more permanent solution to abolishing them, JAMA Dermatology recommends talking to your healthcare provider about the possibility of having laser treatments done. This will remove the hair that's there and prevent the growth of new hair.

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Lipoma

If your lump isn't red, inflamed, or filled with pus, another possibility is that you could have a lipoma, which is a knot of fatty tissue that commonly grows in places like the shoulders, neck, arms, armpits, upper back, buttocks, and upper thighs, said Dr. Rajapaksa.

According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS), while you can get lipomas at any age, they mostly form in adults between 40 and 60. There is no known cause of them other than possibly a genetic one.

Lipomas are almost always harmless and painless. However, one may cause pain if it lies on any nerves. If it bothers you, your healthcare provider can remove it, typically by making a small incision and taking out the tissue, said Dr. Rajapaksa.

A lipoma is typically soft and rubbery and can be moved with gentle pressure, per the AAOS. There are several subtypes of lipomas based on the type of fat the lump is made of, its location (some are deeper in the body), and what other structures it involves, like blood vessels, organs, and other tissues. You probably wouldn't know what type it was unless you had it removed and the lump was biopsied.

Swollen Lymph Nodes

You have lymph nodes throughout your body. According to The National Library of Medicine's resource MedlinePlus, lymph nodes can be felt in the armpit, groin, neck, behind the ears, under the jaw and chin, and on the back of the head.

Lymph nodes play an important role in the immune system, acting as filters to trap "intruders" in your body (think germs and cancer cells), said Dr. Rajapaksa. They can become painful and enlarged when you have an infection, like strep throat or mononucleosis. The swelling and discomfort usually go away when the infection does, although it may take weeks for the swelling to fully subside, per MedlinePlus.

Some people also have small amounts of breast tissue near the armpit, so if you notice soreness just before your period, it may be due to the same hormonal changes that cause period-related breast tenderness, noted Dr. Rajapaksa.

See your healthcare provider if the lump doesn't disappear in a couple of weeks or gets bigger, or if the pain seems to worsen. It could be a cyst, a breast infection, or (very rarely) a tumor, said Dr. Rajapaksa. You should also see your healthcare provider if the lump feels hard, irregular, or fixed in place or if it's accompanied by fever, night sweats, or unexplained weight loss, per MedlinePlus.

RELATED: You Found a Lump In Your Breast. Now What?

Chances are, any lump you find in your armpit is nothing serious. But if it doesn't go away, is accompanied by other symptoms, you or your family have a history of breast cancer, or you feel it could be suspicious, see your healthcare provider. It's always better to err on the side of caution.

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