What do Breast Cancer Lumps Feel Like?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Lumps in the breasts can be a serious concern, and people who perform regular self-exams often wonder exactly what breast cancer lumps feel like and how to tell them apart from non-cancerous, or benign, lumps. Breast cancer lumps are usually very hard and are often irregularly shaped. In the early stages, they may be about the same size as a pea, and can feel dimpled, much like the surface of a golf ball. Often, a cancerous lump cannot be moved around in the breast, and pressing on the area doesn't usually cause discomfort.

Regular self exams can easily determine a change in the breast tissue.
Regular self exams can easily determine a change in the breast tissue.

Another potential indicator that a lump is a cancerous is when the skin becomes dimpled or puckered right above it. If the lump is in the nipple, the nipple could become inverted; any lump accompanied by pink or bloody discharge may also be a cause for concern. Bruises on the breasts that appear suddenly can be a symptom of breast cancer, as well. Cancerous lumps may be found both near the surface of the breast and deeper inside, closer to the chest wall. They may also occur in the armpit area.

Mammograms are performed to detect the presence of breast cancer.
Mammograms are performed to detect the presence of breast cancer.

Not all breast lumps are cancerous. A fibroadenoma, for example, is a pea-size lump that is often benign. Unlike most breast cancer lumps, a fibroadenoma can usually be moved around in the breast, and most often appears in teen girls and women in their early 20s. Another benign lump that some women develop is a breast cyst. Though a cyst usually feels hard on the surface, it gives to pressure because it is filled with fluid. Cysts are usually not cancerous, but doctors will nearly always want to do a needle biopsy to make sure.

Breast cancer lumps are usually hard and are often irregularly shaped.
Breast cancer lumps are usually hard and are often irregularly shaped.

It is often easier to detect breast lumps when a person knows what his or her breasts feel like normally; many doctors recommend that women perform regular self-exams so that they can more easily notice any changes in the breast tissue. The glandular tissue of the breasts, which generally makes up the upper and outer parts, can naturally feel lumpy, and this texture can change over the course of a woman's menstrual cycle. Lumps that don't go away after a woman menstruates, or which feel different from the rest of the breast tissue, should be examined by a medical professional.

A fibroadenoma can usually be moved around in the breast and is often benign.
A fibroadenoma can usually be moved around in the breast and is often benign.

Anytime a person finds a lump in his or her breast, professional medical help should be sought to correctly identify it. Just because a lump doesn't feel like breast cancer lumps typically do does not mean that it's benign, and lumps that have the characteristics of breast cancer aren't always cancerous. The appearance of any type of lump in the breast is a matter best discussed with a health care professional, which should be done as soon as possible after it is discovered. Breast cancer that is treated early has a good prognosis; the five-year survival rate of people whose breast cancer was detected at an early stage was as high as 93% in 2010.

Professional medical assistance should be sought to identify a lump in the breast.
Professional medical assistance should be sought to identify a lump in the breast.
Breast cancer occurs more often than usual in some families due to their genetic make-up.
Breast cancer occurs more often than usual in some families due to their genetic make-up.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


I am an eleven year old boy and I have a lump on my nipple. Please help. I am real scared.


My sister has a lump on her right breast and there is liquid coming out and it smells bad. She doesn't want to go to the doctor for a check up because she's scared. I have tried to convince her to go for a check up but she refuses to. She didn't feel pain for that and she's not losing weight. Does my sister have breast cancer?


I'm 11 and I have an small oval shaped thing in both of my breasts. It hurts bad but it's not growing! Please answer somebody. I am scared. I have so much I want do in life. I can't have something wrong! I'm scared to tell my mom and dad, too!


I have a lump underneath my left breast nipple. I am a man and it's only growing bigger and bigger, and doesn't hurt at all to touch. Although my doctor says it's all fine, is it really? We don't have good health coverage here.


Hello there. I'm a 11 year old boy and lately I've been having issues similar to some of the people here. I have a lump behind both of my nipples - left and right and it feels like a stone. I did do regular 'self-exams' earlier and my nipples were a lot softer earlier.

When I touch my nipples, it hurts and when I touch a near-by area it hurts as well. I'm unaware of what to do. I've shared my problem with my mother as my father isn't here to support me at this time. She claimed that it was due to 'gastic.' She's not a medical professional so I'd like it if anyone could help me with this issue. I'm really worried that I have breast cancer and I've done some research. According to the research I fear that I may have breast cancer. --Jason


I'm a 15 year old boy and I think I have breast cancer. There are lumps in both my breasts. It started about one year ago. The lumps were very small, like peas, but now have started growing and it's a bit painful. Is it possible that I have breast cancer?


@marie1215: I would think if the needle biopsy had turned up anything, her doctor would have told her by now, but she does need to call and make a follow-up appointment.

The fact that the nodule is painful is actually a good thing. *Most* of the time (not in every case, though), a malignant tumor is not painful.

The fact that she has headaches doesn't mean she can't have anesthesia, as long as her doctors know about the headaches and what she takes for them. There are different kinds of anesthesia and her doctor can advise her on whether she needs surgery and how it can best be done. If she is not satisfied with what her doctor says, she needs to get a second opinion.

This is something she does not need to ignore and she needs to find a doctor who will work with her on getting her the best possible treatment.


I'm 14 and I'm worried about my mom. She has had this "ball" shaped form object in her breast. It started off small and now it's much bigger! We can't even touch her breast gently because it hurts her. The last time my brother hugged her in a gentle hug, my mom was crying in pain. Please help! Can it be cancer? She went to go get it checked and she said the doctor put a needle through it to see what it was, but we haven't heard from it since.

She said one of her friends had it and since she take the pain, she got an operation to have it removed. My mom suffers from really bad headaches and she's afraid she might not be able to survive the anesthesia. Please, anything helps. I don't want to lose her.


@anon336096: Great responses. Interesting, isn't it, how the subject of post-menopausal breasts isn't covered well by anyone, not even Susun. The internet certainly doesn't help. Even "post-menopausal" equates with hormone replacement on searches. I have had a curious development just now. I am more terrified of starting the process and rotten medical practitioners than anything else.

I can't believe anyone's being told to get a mammogram every six months to watch it. Jeez. Why not just visit a nuke plant with a leak?


@Anamur: A mammogram every six months is not a reasonable plan. That's way too much radiation. Way too much.

@anon73019: By now, you have dealt with the pea-size area. But women must get to proper facilities and physicians who have not adopted the mantra - "It's your decision" - without giving thorough information. Go somewhere else.

@fify: There's only like, a trillion dollars that have been contributed for "awareness" through pinkification, and some of that money is for breast exam instruction. Not only that, but you can read Susun Weed's Breast Cancer Breast Health book, which includes very helpful descriptions. Our breasts change quite a bit over the course of a month, and post-menopausal women's breasts also aren't static. Know your breasts. Don't leave it up to the doctors as if this was the 17th century.


@fify-- I agree with you but I think you can tell if you learn to regularly check your breasts at home with your hands.

My mom is a nurse and she taught me how to check my breasts for irregularities. I just feel my breast with one hand going in circular motions from the outer part to the inner, feeling for anything odd, like a clump.

I do this regularly so now I can tell apart what is breast tissue and fat. If there were to be a lump, I'm sure I would recognize it right away.


It's so hard to know what a cancer lump would feel like, especially when you've never seen or felt one before.

I can't tell what's going on with my breasts whatsoever. I just let the doctor check it for me.


@anon73019-- But what is the knot exactly?

Is it a cyst, a benign tumor, what is it?

My sister has a cyst in her breast, it's kind of like yours, a small lump. It is not dangerous for her right now so she hasn't gotten it removed. But she has to get a mammogram every six months and an ultrasound to make sure the lump is not growing or changing.

I agree that you need to find out more details about this before you can make an informed decision about what to do.


I had a mammogram and was called back for another mammogram and an ultrasound of my right breast. I have a pea sized, what appears to be solid lump in the back of right breast. My doctor wants to biopsy it. I am so scared. I'm 46 and have no family history of breast cancer or really of any cancer in my family that I can think of.


Get another doctor -- one who will discuss with you exactly what is going on.


remove it for your own peace of mind and find another doctor. this guy sounds cold.


I have a hard pea sized knot in my right breast, I had a mammogram and ultrasound done. A doctor came in after to talk with me he didn't say a whole lot but that it was up to me to get it removed or to watch it closely! Do I watch it or get it removed? Very scared and need to know what is safest thing to do.

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