What If I Have a Lump?

By OBOS Common Medical Conditions Contributors | October 15, 2011

Many women feel anxiety and fear upon finding a lump and immediately think it’s cancer. If you’re in this position, you may want to get to the doctor’s office this very second, or, alternatively, find yourself immobilized by fear.

First of all, try not to panic: More than 80 percent of all breast lumps are not cancer, especially in women under 40. Lumps in that are big enough to feel may be cysts, benign tumors such as fibroadenomas, pseudolumps, or cancers. It is impossible to tell the difference with physical examination alone.

Cancer in the breast usually feels firm and hard. It often does not have clear edges but blends into the surrounding breast tissue. Breast cancers are usually about one centimeter (half an inch) in size before you can feel them; in women with firmer, lumpier breasts, they must be even larger to be felt.

Finding a lump requires taking some decisive actions. First, tell someone about your concerns, so you can get some support and not have to go through the next steps alone. Then contact your health care provider. Tell the appointment person or nurse that you have found a new breast lump and ask to be seen promptly.

Your clinician will do a physical examination of your breasts and determine whether further evaluation is necessary. You may be told to monitor the lump for one or two months, and note if there are any changes. Or you may be scheduled for diagnostic breast imaging, such as a mammogram or ultrasound, and/or referred to a breast specialist, usually a surgeon.

If more information is needed, a biopsy may be recommended, since only a tissue sample can confirm whether a lump is cancerous or benign.

This can be a very stressful time. Even though it’s likely that a breast lump is benign, statistics don’t always calm our fears. It helps to speak frankly with your health care provider about your concerns and to have the support of friends and/or family.

It is also important to have confidence in your health care provider. If you are not comfortable with the recommendations you receive, particularly a wait-and-see approach, be sure to say so. Getting a second opinion may be a good idea in this situation.