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.
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.
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.
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.
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.