Lump in the breast: is it cancer? Know when to worry

When a woman undergoes an examination and a lump is found in the breasts, it is normal for there to be apprehension.

But calm down! The Healthy Minute brings an entire text to help you answer questions about this situation


What is a lump in the breast?

Nodules are solid lesions with a diameter equal to or greater than 1 cm, a delimited shape that has its origin in the epithelial or connective tissue of the breasts. In general, they are considered as alterations, anomalies, lumps or small balls that appear in a certain region of the body.

Sometimes, they can be felt with touch, but at other times, only clinical examinations can indicate their presence.

Most diagnoses indicate that they are small and benign, that is, they do not pose health risks and often do not even need to be treated.

Although it is more common in women, it is important to note that men can also have lumps in the breast.

However, doing all tests is essential, because in some cases the presence of nodules can indicate cancer or other health conditions.

What is a malignant and benign nodule?

The malignant lump is an anomaly that can harm health and, when it develops, can turn into cancer. Therefore, they require more accurate clinical follow-up.

Benign nodules are harmless and do not compromise the patient’s health in most cases.

The first way to suspect if the nodule is malignant is the age of the woman it is in: benign nodules tend to appear in women between 20 and 50 years old and malignant nodules appear in patients over 50 and who are in the menopause .

Of course, this is not a rule!

The best way to find out if the lump is benign or malignant is to seek medical help and do the tests.

What are the types of breast lumps?

There are 2 types of nodules that can be present in the breast: the cystic and the solid.

The cystic nodule is a cyst . Inside, there are only liquids, which makes it harmless to health in the vast majority of cases.

The solid nodule, on the other hand, tends to be more worrying and, therefore, it is likely that the mastologist will make a deeper evaluation or ask for the tests to be repeated within a few months.

What causes a lump in the breast?

The causes of the appearance of breast lumps vary according to the case. The most common are the influence of hormones (during menstruation or menopause), abnormal growth of the mammary glands, accumulation of fat in the breast and infections (mastitis, for example).

Infections in the breast, blocked milk ducts (galactocele) and other injuries can also be other causes of the breast lump.

What are the degrees of classification of breast nodules?

Breast lumps are diagnosed according to the degree of risk it presents to patients.

The categories that are provided for in the BI-RADS (Breast Imaging Reporting and Data System) which is a protocol used to classify the nodule, according to the mammography exam . Learn more about each of them:

Grade 0

If the mammography result is grade 0, it means that the exam was inconclusive.

This tends to happen when the breasts have thicker breast tissue, which makes it difficult for the image to be clear.

As a precautionary measure, it is recommended to request another imaging exam (such as ultrasound).

Grade 1

The degree indicates that the breast is healthy and without abnormalities. The exam must be repeated according to medical advice, usually after 1 year.

Grade 2

Mammograms that result in grade 2 mean that there are the presence of benign changes and that, for the time being, they do not have the potential to become cancer.

However, this cannot be synonymous with relaxation. It is necessary to continue taking care of yourself and do not forget to do the exams when requested.

Grade 3

Grade 3 indicates that there are changes that can be benign, since the chances of being a malignant nodule are small, with only a 2% chance of the patient developing tumors.

At this stage, nodules that cannot be palpable, some types of lesions and oval or round microcalcifications fit together.

Even so, the ideal is to continue with medical follow-ups. A new monograph will probably be requested in 6 months.

Grade 4

If the woman presents a mammogram with a grade 4 result, things start to get a little more serious, since there is more chance of progressing to cancer.

The nodule, at this stage, has characteristics similar to tumors such as irregularities, asymmetric density, microcalcifications and poorly defined limits.

With this perspective, it is normal for the mastologist to request a biopsy (removal of a piece of diseased tissue) and a more detailed assessment of the breast tissue.

Grade 5

Grade 5 means that the changes present in the exam are possibly malignant. The chance of developing breast cancer is 95%.

In these situations, a biopsy is usually requested, which depending on the result, will refer the patient to the operating room in order to remove the nodule.

Grade 6

At this stage, unfortunately, the woman has a diagnosis of breast cancer.

The result must be handed over to the doctor who ordered the exam to start the correct treatment (such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy, depending on each case).

Can a man also have a breast lump?

Yes. Although it is more rare (about 1% of cases) it is also possible for men to have lumps in the breasts. This is because every human being has breast tissue, regardless of sex. Thus, if men notice lumps or pellets in their breasts, they should also seek the evaluation of a medical professional.

If a lump is found, medical procedures should proceed as normal.

That is, this nodule can be benign or malignant. In the second case, if necessary, other tests, biopsies and even surgeries are performed to remove the abnormality.

So, here’s our tip: don’t let prejudice harm your health! Feel your breasts and, in case of doubts, look for a mastologist.

Does lump in the breast hurt?

Generally, lumps in the breast do not accompany other symptoms. This means that they do not cause any discomfort or pain. But it depends on the cause of the lump. As the majority refer to benign nodules, the presence of symptoms is not common.

However, if it is a malignant lump, related to cancer, for example, it may be that patients have symptoms.

Although it is rarer, it is possible that the lump causes a feeling of heaviness in the breast, or causes burning and pain.

In these cases, to alleviate the woman’s suffering, it is recommended that it be removed with the aid of medication or surgery.

What are the symptoms and signs of lump in the breast?

This, in fact, is one of the main reasons for the nodule to be discovered at an advanced stage. Typically, within the nodules tend to not present any symptom. When there are signs, they are usually minor pains, mild swelling or even a feeling of heaviness.

The great danger is that many women tend to consider these signs as normal, attributing the justification for the discomfort they are due to menstrual periods or daily stress .

Another sign that there is something wrong is the presence of balls or lumps, which can be felt when the woman does the self-examination.

However, as several conditions can lead to the formation of nodules, the symptoms will depend on the source of the problem.

Can breast lump occur in young people or babies?

It is a rare situation, but young people and babies can have breast lumps. This is because when a baby is born, she already has the breast tissues formed.

That is, although they are not as developed as that of an adult woman, they do exist and can also present abnormalities.

The nodules are not old enough to appear. Therefore, it is extremely important to have pediatric follow-up.

How is the diagnosis?

The diagnosis of the presence of nodules in the breast is made by means of exams that later must be evaluated by a mastologist, who can take into account the current clinical picture and the patient’s history.

Before ordering the imaging exams, it is common for the professional to do the so-called touch exam to detect the presence of nodules.

Is breast lump cancer? When to worry?

No. Before despairing, it is important to make one thing clear: a breast lump is not always synonymous with breast cancer.

Therefore, when receiving the result of your medical examination that points to the presence of a lump in the breast, keep calm and take this same test so that a mastologist can evaluate it.

Only after carrying out tests is it possible to determine the causes and, thus, to know if the nodule is malignant. However, in general, benigns do not accompany other symptoms, such as discharge, pain, redness.

What are the most common tests?

One of the most common tests to check what kind of change in breast tissue is mammography. In it, the woman has her breast placed on a platform. When the test starts, the machine presses on the breast, squeezing it to ensure a clearer image.

In most cases, mammography is a test that causes mild pain and lasts for a few minutes.

The doctor may also request other imaging tests, such as ultrasound, which consists of passing an appliance through the breast region, allowing you to see what is in the breast tissue.

Is there a cure?

Yes, lumps in the breast are curable.

If it is cystic, elimination is done with the use of hormonal medications, such as contraceptives. As for solid nodules, the treatment may vary according to size: the smaller ones can be eliminated with medication, the larger ones are easily removed with minor surgeries.

In some cases, the lump can also be left there until it heals on its own. This decision must be made by a mastologist based on the exams presented.

But it is worth making it clear that even if the nodules have in fact been removed (providing a healing state), they can return.

Therefore, it is of utmost importance that the medical follow-up and the requested exams are followed according to the guidelines of the mastologist for each situation.

How to treat lumps in the breast?

If the nodule is benign, does not show growth and is not causing discomfort for the woman, there is no reason to treat it (as long as the mastologist agrees to do so).

When the woman is in pain, even if the changes are not at risk, it is possible to talk to the doctor about the possibility of taking an anti-inflammatory medicine.

If it develops suddenly, you can take hormonal medications (such as birth control pills) to try to “stop” any type of harmful process.

In situations where the nodule is malignant, the form of treatment varies for each case: surgery, use of chemotherapy drugs or radiology.

How to prevent?

Unfortunately, there is no way to totally avoid the presence of lumps in the breast, as it can be caused by hormonal factors, infections or inflammation of the breast cells.

What you can do is to prevent and control the risk factors. Like this?

Well, prevention is done through exams like mammography and ultrasound. So keeping your appointments up to date is a great way to prevent this problem.

And now the appeal goes: women who are between 40 and 70 years old must have breast exams at least once a year.  

Lifestyle also influences the appearance of breast lumps.

Practicing physical activities, not smoking, controlling body weight through healthy eating, avoiding prolonged use of hormones and breastfeeding are fundamental tips to prevent this condition.

Lumps in the breast should be investigated by medical professionals. They can be benign or malignant and require different forms of treatment.