About 40% of women will discover a breast lump at some point in their lives. Although a lump doesn’t necessarily mean cancer, what women do immediately after that discovery can mean the difference between survival or not.
So what do you need to know if you find a breast lump?
1. A Breast Lump Is Almost Always Cancer
This is a myth, thankfully, but a widespread one. Every woman [with a breast lump] thinks it’s cancer until proven otherwise. The older a woman is, the more petrified she is that she is the one in seven or eight to get breast cancer. But some women shift to denial. They will think cancer can’t possibly be happening to them, or they think they’re too young. The lump is more likely to be cancerous in older women who have gone through menopause than in younger women.
When a lump turns out not to be cancer, what else might it be? It could be a cyst (a fluid-filled sac that can be drained), an abnormal noncancerous growth such as a fibroadenoma or, much less often, a blood clot that causes lumpiness. It could also be a “pseudo lump,” caused by hormonal changes that isn’t a lump at all. Whatever the cause, it’s important to get any lump evaluated. A physical examination, a mammogram, and perhaps an ultrasound are all recommended.
2. A Cancerous Lump Feels Different From a Benign Lump
Not always. Cancerous lumps and noncancerous, or benign, lumps, can overlap. When a lump is cancer, women often assume it will be a single lesion that feels hard and doesn’t move around. That could be, but a cancerous breast lump could also feel smooth and be mobile.
You can’t always tell by how it feels. Cysts, if they are deep, will feel scary. If they are near the surface, they often feel round and smooth. But if they are deep, they can push the breast tissue forward. Something that feels fairly benign and smooth and movable can be a cancer. Something that feels very scary can be benign.
The best advice? Anything that feels different to you should get checked out. These days, checking out breast lumps is easier for several reasons. Breast surgeons and breast clinics are common and ultrasound is often available right in the office.
3. A Small Lump Is Typically Nothing to Worry About