When to Worry About a Breast Lump

It’s entirely natural to worry after finding a lump in your breast. Fortunately, though, finding a lump does not necessarily mean you have breast cancer.

Noncancerous masses can also form in the breast and do not pose the same threat to your health as cancerous ones. Noncancerous lumps are far more common, and only 3% to 6% of breast lumps are due to cancer.

To ensure that you’re taking care of your health, visit your healthcare provider and undergo the necessary tests to determine if the lump is cancerous (malignant) or noncancerous (benign).

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Signs a Lump Is Cancer

The signs of a cancerous lump differ from those of a benign lump in the breast. Some possible signs a lump could be cancerous include:

  • Rock-like firmness
  • Irregular size or shape
  • Fixed to one area as if attached to skin or other tissues within the breast
  • Being immovable

Are Breast Cancer Lumps Painful?

Although breast cancer lumps can, in rare cases, cause pain, noncancerous lumps are more likely to be painful.

Additional Cancer Signs and Symptoms

People with breast cancer may experience other signs along with a lump in the breast. For example, the skin's texture on the breast may change and start to resemble an orange peel with dimpling. Nipples on the breast may also change and retract into the body. The armpit, which contains some breast tissue, may also present with enlarged lymph nodes.

Some nonspecific symptoms (those that could be from a variety of conditions) may also develop, such as:

Other Signs to Look Out For

In some cases, breast cancer will be accompanied by swelling, inflammation, or a rash on the skin of the breast. Ulceration (breaks in the skin) may also occur.

Benign Breast Lumps

Benign or noncancerous lumps feel different than cancerous ones. Compared to the firmness of breast cancer lumps, benign ones are often squishy and feel closer to soft rubber.

The lump itself will also be well-defined, meaning it will be easy to tell where it starts and stops. Unlike with cancerous lumps that are fixed in place, benign lumps will be moveable within the breast.

Other signs of a noncancerous breast lump can include:

  • Painful lumps
  • Tenderness
  • Swelling

Different types of lumps can grow in the breast, including:

  • Simple cysts: Sacs filled with fluid
  • Complicated cysts: Sacs filled with fluid and other substances
  • Complex cystic and solid masses: Masses that are thicker or more solid than cysts 

Lump Changes During Your Menstrual Cycle

If a breast lump is noncancerous, the symptoms such as pain or tenderness will worsen during your period. The lumps could also grow or shrink throughout your menstrual cycle, depending on the stage you are in at the time. These changes are referred to as cyclic breast changes and are thought to occur because of hormone fluctuations.

When to See Your Healthcare Provider

While most lumps are noncancerous, you should see your healthcare provider if you find a lump or notice any breast changes you’re unsure of. Benign lumps are typically harmless, but it’s impossible to self-diagnose a fibrocystic lump without the proper tests.

Why You Shouldn’t Hesitate to See a Healthcare Provider

Any lump you find should prompt a visit to your healthcare provider. You will want to be sure the lump is not a sign of cancer. Breast cancer is highly survivable, especially if caught early, so see a provider as soon as you can for a diagnosis and treatment, if necessary.

Next Steps

After finding a lump in your breast, you can contact your primary care provider and explain any symptoms you are experiencing and how the breast lump feels. They can direct you to a specialist who will perform the necessary tests to determine if the lump is benign or cancerous. 

Some tests done to check for breast cancer include:

  • Mammograms, which can detect lumps but have difficulty discerning between cancerous and noncancerous lumps
  • Ultrasounds, which can help identify which masses need further testing and which are not likely to be cancer
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which are scans that can get a closer look at the mass and determine if it's cancerous or not
  • Biopsy, which will be performed on tissue that is removed from the lump to check for cancer cells.

Do not wait to see your healthcare provider. Any breast changes should be addressed as soon as you notice them.

What Type of Specialist Do I Need to See?

For any tumor, you will see an oncologist. These medical professionals specialize in cancer diagnosis and treatment, but they also help to diagnose benign masses.


Lumps in the breast can be both cancerous and noncancerous. Cancerous lumps tend to feel firm, almost like a rock within the breast. They will also feel as though they are attached to skin or other tissue within the breast and won’t move from their place. Noncancerous tumors feel softer and rubbery and can move within the breast.

Other symptoms can also help you distinguish between cancerous and non-cancerous lumps. Pain and swelling are typically associated with noncancerous lumps, whereas fatigue, weakness, and musculoskeletal pain are more likely to be present in someone with a cancerous lump. 

Regardless of how the lump feels, you should see your medical provider for any lumps or breast changes you notice. They can run the appropriate tests to determine if a lump is harmless, needs to be removed, or is cancerous and requires treatment.

A Word From Verywell

Finding a lump in your breast can be scary because your initial thought may be breast cancer. While lumps in the breast don’t always mean cancer, they can. When breast cancer is caught early, it is highly treatable, so it’s essential to take notice of any breast changes and have them checked out.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Are breast cancer lumps hard or soft?

    Lumps in the breast can feel hard or soft. How the lumps feel will be a good indicator of whether they are cancerous. Hard masses are more likely to be cancerous than soft ones.

  • What is a “moveable” lump?

    A moveable lump is a lump that you can move around within the breast. In many cases, moveable lumps are simply cysts that do not pose the same threat to your health as cancer. Breast cancer lumps are typically stationary.

  • What percentage of breast lumps are cancerous?

    The majority of breast lumps found are noncancerous. In fact, only 3% to 6% of breast lumps contain cancer cells. Because of this, lumps are not always a cause for concern. They should, however, always be investigated by a healthcare provider to be sure.


7 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.