Breast lump: Early evaluation is essential

A breast lump deserves medical attention. Know what to expect during a clinical breast exam — and what happens when a lump needs further evaluation. By Mayo Clinic Staff

If you find a breast lump or other change in your breast, you might be worried about breast cancer.

That's understandable — but remember that breast lumps are common and not necessarily cancerous. In fact, for women in their 20s to early 50s, an estimated 90 percent or more of suspicious breast lumps are noncancerous (benign). Still, it's important to have any breast lump evaluated by a doctor.

How breast tissue normally feels

Breasts contain tissues of varying consistency. The glandular tissue in the upper, outer part of the breast usually feels firm and slightly rope-like, bumpy or lumpy (nodular). The surrounding fat tissue, often felt in the inner and lower parts of the breast, is soft.

You might find that breast-related symptoms, such as tenderness or lumpiness, change over the course of your menstrual cycle.

Breast tissue also changes as you age, typically becoming more fatty and less dense over time.

When to consult your doctor

Being familiar with your normal breast consistency can help you determine if there's a change in your breasts.

Consult your doctor if:

  • You find a breast lump that's new or unusual
  • A new breast lump doesn't go away after your next period
  • An existing breast lump seems to have changed — it gets bigger, for instance
  • You notice skin changes on your breast, such as redness, crusting, dimpling or puckering
  • You notice changes in your nipple — it turns inward (inversion) or appears flatter, for instance
  • You notice nipple discharge that's clear, yellow, green, brown or red
Jun. 22, 2012 See more In-depth