How Does It Feel? Learning To Recognize Malignant Breast Lumps


In the United States, one in eight women will develop breast cancer throughout her lifetime, and over two thousand men per year are likewise afflicted. This is not only the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women; it’s also one for which the risk increases with age. The older you are, the more likely you are to develop breast cancer, and the longer it takes for your cancer to be a diagnosis, the greater the chance that it will spread to your lymph nodes. That’s why it’s essential right now to learn specifics about the disease so that you can spot the symptoms early.

Often, the first sign women will notice a lump in their breasts.  

What Does a Breast Cancer Lump Feel Like?

The good news is that not every lump, pain, or change to the feel of your breasts is cause for concern. Most of them aren’t breast cancer symptoms.

Many of us will experience changes to our breasts over time, mainly related to our menstrual cycles. However, this phenomenon is a double-edged sword. Because we’re used to sharing such sensations, we may be tempted to ignore or downplay the earliest breast cancer symptoms.

Breast lumps that might indicate a malignant tumor might display some (or all) of the following characteristics:

  • Lump is round, smooth, and firm to the touch
  • Lump feels solid and moves easily under your skin
  • Lump is hard but irregularly shaped

Other breast cancer symptoms may include:

  • Breast size or shape changes
  • Discharge from nipples
  • Skin is red or dimpled
  • Unexplained breast pain

While we don’t want everyone to panic the moment they feel a breast lump, we also want people to know what suspicious breast lumps feel like so that they can seek help (and perhaps a biopsy) sooner rather than later.

Remember, the earlier breast cancer is diagnosed, the better the long-term prognosis.

What Painful Lumps in Breasts Indicate

Throughout life, some level of breast pain is inevitable. 

Breast pain usually isn’t a sign of breast cancer… Although many women with pain in one or both breasts may be concerned that it is breast cancer, breast pain is NOT commonly a cancer symptom. (National Breast Cancer Foundation)

Most breast pain is caused by issues unrelated to breast cancer.

  • Puberty
  • PMS and menstruation 
  • Pregnancy, childbirth, and nursing
  • Side-effects of medications
  • Menopause
  • Infections
  • Cysts

If you discover painful lumps in your breasts, any condition you’re suffering from is likely benign.

Still, any level of ongoing pain is a cause for concern, and you should make an appointment with your healthcare provider to get to the root cause.

Can You Have Breast Cancer Without a Lump?

The short answer is yes. You can have breast cancer without a lump.

Though it’s uncommon, if you are experiencing breast pain without identifying a lump, you may have Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC), a rare but severe condition.

Symptoms include breast swelling, purple or red color of the skin, and dimpling or thickening of the skin of the breast so that it may look and feel like an orange peel. Often, you might not feel a lump, even if it is there. (

Unfortunately, since this type of breast cancer doesn’t mirror the more common symptoms, it’s generally diagnosed later rather than earlier. This is unfortunate since those with IBC tend to have a worse prognosis than those diagnosed with the more common types of cancer. 

Early detection and treatment are essential.

Different Kinds of Breast Lumps

One of the best ways to ensure earlier detection and treatment is to learn about the different types of breast lumps, what may cause them, and how to determine if a lump is a reason for concern. 

Benign Breast Lumps

The majority of lumps in the breast are not due to a malignant tumor.  They occur from reasons unrelated to cancer.

  • Abscesses. These are pockets of fluids that can create lumps in the breasts.
  • Cysts. Also filled with fluids, cysts may be either soft or hard depending on where they develop in the breast tissue. However, they are not cancerous.
  • Fibroadenoma. Because they develop smooth and firm, fibroadenomas are often mistaken for malignant tumors. However, they’re often more rubbery than malignant tumors, and they are not dangerous. 
  • Hematoma. When blood collects outside the blood vessels, the result is a hematoma. Caused by injury or surgery, these lumps generally heal on their own. 
  • Fat necrosis. This condition is caused by disintegrating fatty tissues in the breast and is most common in women who either have large breasts and/or have suffered recent bruising or a procedure such as a lumpectomy. 
  • Galactocele. These fluid-filled masses are caused by blocked milk ducts.

In the end, most lumps in the breasts will be benign.

However, because some lumps will indicate cancer, it’s important to know the root causes and learn to recognize malignant ones. 

Malignant Breast Lumps 

While it’s not always possible to tell a benign lump from a malignant lump on your own, a self-exam can help you identify some of the most common symptoms of a malignant breast lump.

  • Pebbly surface
  • Hard to the touch
  • Commonly located in the upper/outer areas of the breast
  • Does not move when manipulated during a self-exam

If you find a lump and recognize these qualities, be sure to come into the Women’s Clinic and get checked out right away.

Contact the Women’s Clinic, in Jackson & Madison Mississippi

Contemplating a breast cancer diagnosis is scary; however, an early diagnosis can make a big difference, and early treatment can lower the likelihood that it will spread to your lymph nodes.

If you’re concerned about breast pain or newly emerged lumps, we encourage you to be proactive and seek testing as soon as possible. 

If you have questions or concerns, or if you would like to talk about any other health needs, please feel free to contact us at The Women’s Clinic. We look forward to meeting you, answering your questions, and serving you in any way necessary.

Please schedule your appointment with us today!

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