What Are The Signs and Symptoms of Breast Lumps?

By: Christian Nordqvist

The signs and symptoms of breast lumps vary, and depend mainly on what is causing them (it). A symptom is sensed by the patient, while a sign is detected by others, including the doctor or nurse. An example of a symptom might be pain, while dilated pupils could be a sign.

Fibroadenosis (fibrocystic breast disease) - also known as benign breast disease, fibrocystic breast changes, and mammary dysplasia. Benign (non-cancerous) changes occur in breast tissue, resulting in:

  • Breast discomfort and general tenderness
  • Irregular lumps, cysts or swellings
  • Itching
  • Sensitive nipples

Symptoms may alter during the menstrual cycle - tending to become more pronounced just before or during menses (menstrual bleeding). After the menopause women do not generally have symptoms any more.

Women may have very different symptoms, and the same woman may experience varying symptoms on different occasions. For some patients fibroadenosis is a slight nuisance, while for others it is extremely painful. Doctors say fibroadenosis is the female body's normal reaction to changes in hormone levels.

Fibroadenoma - these are small, solid, rubbery, benign (non-cancerous) lumps, consisting of fibrous and glandular tissue. They sometimes develop outside the milk duct. Doctors often recommend a tissue sample (biopsy) to rule out cancer because they appear as a lump. Signs and symptoms include:

  • A well-rounded, smooth, solid lump
  • May get larger during pregnancy
  • Occur in women of childbearing years
  • They are painless
  • They may disappear on their own, but can often persist and slowly grow
  • When touched they move easily
  • They have a rubber-like texture

Breast cyst - a cyst is a closed sac-like structure - an abnormal pocket of fluid, like a blister - that contains either liquid, gaseous, or semi-solid substances. A cyst is located within a tissue, and can occur anywhere in the body and can vary in size - some are so small they can only be viewed through a microscope, while others may become so big that they displace normal organs.

A breast cyst is a fluid-filled sac within the breast; there may be many or just one. They are typically:

  • Round
  • With distinct edges
  • With a soft grape like or water-filled balloon texture
  • The cyst may feel firm
  • More common in woman in their 30s and 40s.
  • They normally go away after the menopause, unless the woman is taking HRT (hormone replacement therapy)
  • They may be tiny or several centimeters in diameter
  • Pain is unusual, unless the cyst is a large one and grows during the menstrual cycle

Experts believe breast cysts develop when milk ducts become blocked.

Unless the cyst is large and causing discomfort, in which case it may be drained, it does not normally require treatment.

Breast cancer - during the early stages breast cancer does not have any palpable symptoms (symptoms the patient can notice). However, as the tumor grows, the way the breast looks and feels can change. The following changes may occur:

  • A thickening in the breast, or near it (in the underarm area)
  • A lump in the breast or near it (in the underarm area)
  • The lump feels firm, usually has an irregular shape, and seems anchored (stuck) to either deep tissue within the breast or the skin of the breast or nearby area.
  • The size and/or shape of the breast may change
  • There may be puckering or dimpling in the skin of the affected breast
  • The nipple of the affected breast may turn inward
  • There may be a discharge from the nipple; the discharge may be bloody
  • The skin on the breast and/or nipple may be scaly, red or swollen