Finding a lump in your breast can be frightening. Although most lumps aren't dangerous, it's important to have them evaluated promptly. Your Mayo Clinic doctor can tell you whether your lump is cancerous or, more likely, a common benign condition such as fibrocystic breast changes. Once your condition has been diagnosed, your treatment team can provide care specific to your personal needs.

  • 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.

Types

Cysts, fibrocystic breast changes, fibroadenomas, infections and injuries can cause noncancerous breast lumps. You may find several types of breast lumps, most of them harmless (benign), during your monthly cycles. Only your doctor can tell you which type you have.

  • Cysts. If you find a lump that feels round, smooth and firm, it could be a cyst. A cyst is a dilated milk duct filled with fluid. It may be tiny or large, and the surrounding area may be tender. Your cyst may appear before your menstrual period and decrease in size or disappear afterward.
  • Fibrocystic breast changes. You may feel fullness in your breasts with areas of lumpiness and tenderness or pain. Nearly half of women have such fibrocystic changes related to their menstrual cycles.
  • Fibroadenomas. Some benign lumps are solid, smooth and easy to move around. If you find one of those common lumps, it may be a fibroadenoma. If you're pregnant or using hormones, the lump may get larger. It's important to have a new lump evaluated. Sometimes a physical exam doesn't tell your doctor whether you have a cyst or a solid lump. Then, your doctor may need to order breast imaging, such as a mammogram or ultrasound. Your doctor may recommend a breast biopsy based on your clinical exam and imaging.
  • Infections and injuries. A severe injury to your breast tissue or nearby nerves can create a lump. This is often described as fat necrosis. If it doesn't go away, you need to have a doctor evaluate it.
  • Breast cancer. If you have a lump that is painless, hard and irregular, and different from the surrounding breast tissue, it might be breast cancer. Your skin over the lump may be retracted, or the skin might look red, dimpled, or pitted like the skin of an orange. Your breast size or shape may change, or you may notice discharge from the nipple.

Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., is ranked among the Best Hospitals for cancer by U.S. News & World Report. Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla., and Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz., are ranked high performing for cancer by U.S. News & World Report.

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 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.

Doctors in the Breast Center diagnose and treat people who have suspicious breast lumps at Mayo Clinic in Florida.

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.

Doctors in the Breast Clinic diagnose and treat women and men who have suspicious breast lumps at Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.

507-538-3270
7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Central time, Monday through Friday

International Patients

Please refer to the international appointment section to request appointments via phone.

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

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

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, all you need may be regular follow-up exams. After examining the images and determining that your lump is still suspicious, your doctor will probably recommend one of the following biopsies.

  • Fine-needle aspiration. Your doctor uses this procedure to evaluate a complex cyst or to drain fluid from a painful cyst.
  • Core needle biopsy. Your doctor will numb your breast with a local anesthetic before performing a core needle biopsy. The doctor who performs this procedure is often a radiologist who uses ultrasound to guide a fine needle to your lump and take a small sample for analysis.
  • Stereotactic biopsy. For this procedure, you'll lie on your stomach on a table that has a hole for your breast to hang through. Computer-generated images provide a 3-D view of your breast to help your doctor guide the needle to your lump. This procedure is often recommended when a mammogram abnormality is worrisome but it cannot be detected by ultrasound.
  • Surgical (excisional) biopsy. In this procedure, also called a lumpectomy or wide local excision, your doctor removes the entire lump under either local or general anesthesia.

Whatever the biopsy method used, your doctor sends the tissue samples to a laboratory for analysis by a pathologist. It may take two or three days to get the lab results.

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

  • Fibrocystic breasts. When diagnostic tests show that your lumps are fibrocystic changes to breast tissue, your doctor may recommend using over-the-counter pain remedies or may prescribe hormone therapy, such as birth control pills.
  • Cysts. Watchful waiting may be your doctor's first recommendation when you have cysts. That's because some cysts disappear without any treatment. If the cyst is painful, your doctor will recommend an aspiration that helps to drain the cyst and can relieve the pain. Some recurring and painful cysts eventually require surgical removal.
  • Fibroadenomas. Your fibroadenoma might disappear without treatment after a few months. If it grows, your doctor will recommend a biopsy to further assess the lump. Depending on the pathology lab findings, the doctor may recommend surgical removal.
  • Infections. Most infections respond to antibiotic treatment, but some require surgery.
  • Breast cancer. Your treatment for breast cancer depends which type it is and its stage of development. Your doctor may recommend surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy.

If you're at high risk of developing breast cancer, your doctor will tell you about Mayo Clinic's prevention and genetic counseling services.

Read about research at Mayo Clinic.

Publications

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

Nov. 20, 2012