What Is a Breast Cancer Lump?

Lumps the breast can cancerous or non-cancerous. They are caused by groups of cells growing out of control and forming a mass in the breast. Lumps in the breast need to be taken seriously, as they could be an early sign of breast cancer. Early detection and treatment are key for improving chances of recovery.

This article explains what breast cancer lumps are, other symptoms of breast cancer, and how to detect them.

Woman speaking to her doctor

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What Is a Cancerous Tumor?

A tumor is a mass of cells. A cancerous tumor forms when abnormal cells grow out of control in one spot, forming a mass. Noncancerous tumors also can be referred to as a tumor, but, typically, noncancerous tumors do not spread to other parts of the body.

Cancerous tumors can grow into larger masses that invade nearby tissues. Eventually, the cells that make up the tumor break away from the initial mass and travel to other areas of the body through the bloodstream or lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is made up of vessels, lymph nodes, and organs designed to transport lymphatic fluid into the bloodstream. This is important because this fluid contains white blood cells, which fight off infections in the body.

Malignant vs. Benign Tumor

Malignant tumors are cancerous, whereas benign tumors are not.

Checking Your Breast for Lumps

Breast cancer is considered a leading cause of death in women and has been referred to as a “modern epidemic.” Roughly 1 in 8 women in America will be affected by breast cancer at some point.

Self-examination for breast cancer lumps is helpful in detecting, early on, any changes that could be breast cancer. However, self-examination should not be used as a replacement for regular screening tests for breast cancer.

How to Do a Self-Exam

Breast self-examinations are not always needed in people who undergo regular mammogram screenings. They are also not recommended as a replacement for routine breast cancer screenings at a healthcare provider's office as most breast cancer cases are found through screenings instead of self-examination.

Though rare, self-examination can sometimes detect cancerous lumps and, therefore, performing at-home screenings can't hurt. If you opt to use self-exams along with other screenings, you should perform them once a month, roughly three to five days following the start of your menstrual period. To perform an exam, you will:

  • Lie on your back.
  • Place your right hand behind your head and firmly but gently press down on your right breast using the three middle fingers of your left hand.
  • Gently massage and feel around the breast for any lumps or changes. You can do this in a circular motion, up and down, and inward, toward the nipple.
  • Once complete, sit or stand and use the same motion to examine your armpit.
  • Squeeze your nipple gently to check for discharge.
  • Repeat on the other breast.

A second part of the self-examination process is performed standing in front of a mirror. Standing with your arms by your sides, you can look for any changes to the texture and shape of your breasts or whether your nipple is turned inward instead of outward. Texture signs to look out for are dimples or indents that may resemble an orange peel.

Lift your arms and repeat the visual examination.

What a Breast Cancer Lump Feels Like

Breast cancer lumps are typically easy to identify because they feel vastly different from the rest of the breast. The lump will be firm, hard, and feel as though it is attached to skin or tissue within the breast. In some cases, the lump will be tender, but pain is not as common in breast cancer lumps as they are in benign lumps.

Other Breast Cancer Symptoms

Many other symptoms are associated with breast cancer, some of which are common and others are rare. Symptoms can also develop that do not appear to be related to breast health. Other signs associated with breast cancer are:

  • Nipple changes: Retracted nipples, changes in how the nipples look, and nipple discharge are all signs of breast cancer.
  • Changes in breast appearance: Dimpling, changes to the contour of the breast, and swelling or a rash can indicate breast cancer. Also, look for signs of infection, inflammation, or breaks in the skin of the breast.
  • Signs of distant disease: If cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, you may feel lumps or pain in the armpit and neck.

Other nonspecific symptoms of breast cancer (common symptoms that could represent a number of conditions) may include muscle, joint, or bone aches that can occur alongside fatigue, weakness, and unintentional weight loss. Chest pain and back pain can also be present in breast cancer.

When to See Your Healthcare Provider

Early detection is vital to ensuring that breast cancer doesn’t spread and can be treated effectively.

Since it is one of the leading causes of death in women, any abnormal changes to your breasts or lumps you find either during self-examination (or by accident) should be investigated by your healthcare provider as soon as possible.

Also, any nonspecific symptoms should prompt a visit to your healthcare provider because a small number of breast cancers present without lumps at first.

How Long Do People Typically Wait Before Seeing a Medical Provider?

Research has shown that many women wait roughly three months before seeing their medical provider after the onset of symptoms of breast cancer. That is far too long and should not be used as a guideline.


Breast cancer is a leading cause of death among women, but early detection can prevent it from spreading throughout the body and causing severe disease. That is why it’s crucial to know what a breast cancer lump feels like, how to do a breast exam yourself, and when you should see your healthcare provider for any changes. This self-exams is helpful, but can't replace regular screenings.

Even nonspecific breast cancer symptoms, such as weakness, fatigue, or back and muscle pain, should be addressed. While connecting breast cancer with these symptoms may be challenging, it’s better to see your medical provider early than wait until cancer has spread to other areas.  

A Word From Verywell 

Thinking you may have breast cancer is scary, especially for women who may be at a higher risk. Because of that, many women may not want to perform self-exams at home. First knowing how your breasts look and feel and then monitoring changes is the best way to keep on top of your breast health at home between regular screenings.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Where is a breast cancer lump usually located?

    A breast cancer lump can be located anywhere within the breast or under the armpit since breast tissue spans that area. However, lumps are most commonly found in the upper area of the breast, closer to the outer part of the body. In men diagnosed with breast cancer, it is typically found closer to the nipple.

  • What does a breast cancer lump feel like?

    Breast cancer lumps can feel firm or hard. They may also be tender to the touch or, in rare cases, painful. The lumps will also feel as though they are either attached to the outer layer of skin on the breast or somewhere inside the breast.

  • Do breast cancer lumps hurt?

    While some cases of breast cancer lumps can occur with pain, it is not all that common. Only roughly 6% of people with breast cancer will have a painful lump. The remaining 93% often report other symptoms of breast cancer that do not include pain.

8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Angelica Bottaro
Angelica Bottaro is a professional freelance writer with over 5 years of experience. She has been educated in both psychology and journalism, and her dual education has given her the research and writing skills needed to deliver sound and engaging content in the health space.