By Mayo Clinic Staff

A breast lump is a growth of tissue that develops within your breast. Finding a lump in your breast can be frightening. Most breast lumps aren't dangerous, but it's important to see your doctor to have them evaluated promptly.

Breast lumps can result from:

  • Breast cysts. If you find a breast lump that feels round, smooth and firm, it could be a cyst — a dilated milk duct filled with fluid. A breast cyst can be large or small, and the surrounding breast tissue may be tender. A breast cyst may appear before your menstrual period and get smaller or disappear afterward.
  • Fibrocystic breast changes. With fibrocystic breast changes, you may feel fullness in your breasts with areas of lumpiness and tenderness. Many women experience fibrocystic breast changes related to their menstrual cycles.
  • Fibroadenomas. Fibroadenomas are solid, noncancerous breast tumors that are smooth and move easily under your skin when touched. A fibroadenoma may grow larger if you're pregnant or using hormone therapy.
  • Injuries and infections. A severe injury to your breast tissue or nearby nerves can create a breast lump. Doctors describe this condition as fat necrosis. A collection of infected fluid (abscess) in breast tissue also can cause a breast lump, one that's often associated with localized breast pain.
  • Breast cancer. A breast lump that's painless, hard, irregularly shaped and different from surrounding breast tissue might be breast cancer. Skin covering the lump may look red, dimpled or pitted like the skin of an orange. Your breast size and shape may change, or you may notice discharge from the nipple.

Only by seeing your doctor for evaluation can you be certain of what kinds of tests you might need and which type of breast lump you have.

  • Experience. Mayo Clinic doctors have a long history of diagnosing and treating women and men who have suspicious breast lumps.
  • Expertise. Doctors at Mayo Clinic are always studying the latest ways to deal with your health conditions.
  • Team approach. Integrated treatment teams consult with one another and include doctors trained in family medicine, internal medicine, human tissue analysis (pathology), cancer (oncology), surgery, radiation therapy and other areas.

Read more about breast lumps and breast lump evaluation.

Mayo Clinic doctors begin to diagnose your breast lump by performing a physical exam of your breasts. Depending on your age and the location of the lump, your doctor will recommend a mammogram or ultrasound image.

Following the evaluation and a review of your tests, your doctor may tell you that you have no problem and the changes are related to normal glandular changes of the breast or that your lump is a simple cyst. If you have no other symptoms, you may need only regular follow-up exams.

However, if your doctor determines that your breast lump still appears to be suspicious after breast imaging, you may need a biopsy:

  • Fine-needle aspiration. Your doctor uses this procedure to evaluate a complex cyst or to drain fluid from a painful cyst.
  • Core needle biopsy. A doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating conditions using medical imaging techniques (radiologist) may perform this procedure. The radiologist uses ultrasound to guide a fine needle into your breast lump and take a small sample for analysis.
  • Stereotactic biopsy. For this procedure, you lie facedown on a padded biopsy table with one of your breasts positioned in a hole in the table. Computer-generated images provide a 3-D view of your breast to help your doctor guide a needle to the lump to collect a tissue sample. Your doctor may recommend this procedure if a worrisome area shows up on a mammogram, but it can't be detected by ultrasound.
  • Surgical (excisional) biopsy. In this procedure, also called a lumpectomy or wide local excision, your doctor removes the entire lump during either local or general anesthesia.

Whatever the biopsy method used, your doctor sends the tissue samples to a lab for analysis by a pathologist — a doctor who specializes in studying diseases and the changes they cause in body tissues. You may have to wait two or three days for the lab results.

Read more about breast exam, breast biopsy and lumpectomy.

Your treatment choices depend on the type of breast lump you have. Your Mayo Clinic doctor will explain your options and consider your preferences as you work together to develop a treatment plan for your condition.

  • Fibrocystic breasts. If you have fibrocystic breasts, your doctor may recommend over-the-counter pain remedies or may prescribe hormone therapy, such as birth control pills.
  • Cysts. Some breast cysts disappear without any treatment. If the cyst is painful, your doctor may perform aspiration — drawing the fluid out of the cyst with a needle — which helps drain the cyst and can relieve the pain. If you have recurring breast cysts that are persistent and painful, your doctor may talk to you about surgery to remove the painful breast tissue (lumpectomy). However, most often painful, recurring breast cysts resolve around the time of menopause, when hormone fluctuations occur less frequently.
  • Fibroadenomas. A fibroadenoma might disappear without treatment after a few months. You'll have regular ultrasound exams of your breast tissue to assess the size and appearance of the fibroadenoma. If the fibroadenoma grows or appears unusual during an ultrasound exam, your doctor may recommend a biopsy. Depending on the pathology lab findings, your doctor may recommend surgery to remove the fibroadenoma. If the fibroadenoma remains unchanged in size or appearance after two years, you can continue with regular breast exams but no longer need follow-up breast ultrasound exams.
  • Infections. Most infections respond to antibiotic treatment, but some require surgery.
  • Breast cancer. Your treatment for breast cancer depends on which type of cancer it is and its stage of development. Your doctor may recommend surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy or participation in a clinical trial.

If you're at high risk of developing breast cancer, you may benefit from Mayo Clinic's prevention and genetic counseling services.

Mayo Clinic works with hundreds of insurance companies and is an in-network provider for millions of people. In most cases, Mayo Clinic doesn't require a physician referral. Some insurers require referrals or may have additional requirements for certain medical care. All appointments are prioritized on the basis of medical need.

At Mayo Clinic in Arizona, doctors trained in family medicine, community internal medicine and women's health internal medicine work with the Breast Clinic staff to evaluate and treat women and men who have suspicious breast lumps.

For appointments or more information, call the Central Appointment Office at 800-446-2279 (toll-free) 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mountain Standard Time, Monday through Friday or complete an online appointment request form.

At Mayo Clinic in Florida, doctors in the Breast Clinic diagnose and treat people who have suspicious breast lumps.

For appointments or more information, call the Central Appointment Office at 904-953-0853 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday or complete an online appointment request form.

At Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, doctors in the Breast Diagnostic Clinic diagnose and treat women and men who have suspicious breast lumps.

7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Central time, Monday through Friday

See information on patient services at the three Mayo Clinic locations, including transportation options and lodging.

Mayo Clinic doctors in the Breast Clinic research breast condition treatments, share information among Mayo Clinic locations and work with national research organizations such as the National Cancer Institute.

Read more about research at Mayo Clinic.

See a list of publications about suspicious breast lumps by Mayo Clinic doctors on PubMed, a service of the National Library of Medicine.

May 29, 2014