Lumps, Bumps and Cancer
Almost all of us have discovered a lump or bump on our bodies at one time or another. In the majority of cases, these growths are not cancerous and pose no reason for concern – but that still doesn’t mean you should ignore them.
Even trained physicians like myself don’t rely on visual examination to identify every lump, and I certainly don’t recommend patients self-diagnose. While not every lump or bump is cancer, I always advise patients to err on the side of caution.
Any growth that appears on your breast should be discussed with your gynecologist, but there are some tips that can help you discern which breast lumps warrant a prompt medical evaluation.
Breast lumps are often concerning for women, but 80 percent of breast lumps are benign. Non-cancerous breast lumps include:
- Cysts – these fluid-filled sacs are soft and often tender. They tend to grow and shrink with your menstrual cycle, but if a cyst doesn’t disappear after a month, call your doctor.
- Fibroadenomas – most common in women in their 20s and 30s, fibroadenomas are firm, marble-like lumps that are easily moveable. Those that don’t disappear on their own should be monitored for changes and biopsied and removed as necessary.
- Abscesses – these painful, swollen lumps are often surrounded by redness and accompanied by fever. Abscesses are caused by infection should receive prompt medical attention.
Cancerous growths in the breast can present in a variety of ways. Some breast changes that are cause for concern include:
- A thick mass that doesn’t change with your menstrual cycle
- Bulging vein like mass that continues to grow
- Dimpling or skin that resembles an orange peel
- Bump or deformity that doesn’t go away within a month or continues to grow
Breast changes such as a retracted nipple, nipple discharge or skin erosion are also concerning and should be evaluated by your OBGYN.
Other Common Lumps
While breast lumps are common, breasts are not the only place lumps can develop. Bumps you might see elsewhere on the body include:
- Thyroid nodules -- these bumps develop in the thyroid gland located in the front of the neck. Most thyroid nodules are benign but cancer should be ruled out, since painless, growing lumps located anywhere on the neck could be a sign of malignancy. Your physician should examine any neck growth that persists for 2 weeks or longer.
- Lipomas – fat deposits typically found on the arms, legs or trunk. The squishy, moveable balls are often simply monitored. Painful lipomas or those that interfere with nerves or blood vessels should be removed by your doctor.
- Enlarged lymph nodes – swollen lymph nodes can develop along the jawline, in the neck, armpits, groin, base of the skull or behind the ears. Enlargement is usually due to infection caused by bacteria or a virus, but if swelling persists more than 2-3 weeks after the infection resolves, see your doctor.
- Ganglion cysts – these semi-firm lumps are caused by an accumulation of synovial fluid – a lubricant found in joints. These cysts typically develop after an injury and may disappear on their own. If a ganglion causes numbness or limits movement, your doctor will likely recommend drainage or removal.
- Mouth lesions – growths in the mouth that don’t go away within one week are cause for concern, especially when accompanied by lumps in the neck. See your doctor or dentist right away for evaluation and treatment.
As a rule, your physician should evaluate any hard, painless lumps that are immovable; bumps that continue to grow; breast or genital lumps that don’t resolve within a month and any other growth that causes you concern.
When cancer is present, early detection and treatment offers the best chance of a cure. Stay healthy by paying attention to your body and continuing routine health screenings.
All my best,