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How to Identify a Breast Cancer Lump

written by: Rose Kivi • edited by: Emma Lloyd • updated: 9/20/2010

Monthly self-breast exams increase the chances of catching breast cancer early, when it is most treatable. You may wonder, "What does a breast cancer lump feel like?" Breast cancer lumps tend to have certain characteristics that can aid in detection.

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    What Does a Breast Cancer Lump Feel Like?

    Malignant (cancerous) tumors in the breast differ in size and shape. Cancer can be found in the ducts, lobules or surrounding areas of the nipples, breasts or underarms. Malignant breast lumps can feel different depending on the location and type of cancer. Some types of breast cancer feel like firm, round lumps that are unmovable. The lump may feel like it has jagged edges. Other types of breast cancer tumors are more flattened and feel like thickened breast tissue.

    Most malignant breast lumps are not painful, however a small percentage are. According to the California Department of Health, approximately 15 percent of women with breast cancer reported that they felt pain at or around the lump.

    Finding a lump in your breasts does not necessarily mean that you have breast cancer. There are many causes of breast lumps. Approximately 90 percent of breast lumps are benign (non-cancerous), estimates Cancer Research UK. If you find an unusual lump or notice a change in the appearance of your breasts, even if it does not fit the characteristics of breast cancer, have your doctor look at it.

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    Other Breast Cancer Signs to Look For

    Other possible signs of breast cancer that may be present with or without a palatable lump include:

    • A change in the shape or size of one breast
    • Dimpled or thickened skin
    • Swelling in your armpit
    • Clear, bloody or green pus like discharge from the nipple
    • A change in the shape or appearance of your nipple
    • A rash on or around the nipple

    The above symptoms may or may not be caused by cancer, but they do warrant a visit to the doctor.

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    Breast Cancer Statistics

    Breast cancer is one of the leading causes of death in women. In 2006, "191,410 women were diagnosed with breast cancer" and "40,820 women died from breast cancer", says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Breast cancer also occurs in men, but at a much lower rate. MedlinePlus estimates that "women are 100 times more likely to get breast cancer than men." The risks of breast cancer increases with age and is highest in women who are 50 years old or older. Other risks that increase the chances of breast cancer are:

    • A family history of breast cancer
    • Carrying genetic defects in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes
    • Beginning menstruation before the age of 12 years old
    • Reaching menopause after the age of 55 years old
    • Hormone replacement therapy
    • Diethylstilbestrol (DES)
    • Radiation therapy to the chest area
    • Obesity
    • Alcohol consumption: More than one or two glasses a day
    • Never having children

    The two most common types of breast cancer are ductal carcinoma and lobular carcinoma. Ductal carcinomas--cancer in the ducts that carry milk--account for approximately 86 percent of breast cancers, lobular carcinomas--cancer in the areas that makes milk--account for about 12 percent of breast cancers and malignant tumors found in other areas of the breasts account for approximately 2 percent of breast cancers, estimates the University of Cincinnati.

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    Disclaimer

    This article is for educational purposes only and is not meant to act as or replace medical advice. Regularly visit your doctor for checkups, breast exams and mammograms. Some breast cancer lumps are easily missed during self-breast exams and some cannot be felt by palpitation.

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    References

    California Department of Health: Breast Cancer Diagnostic Algorithms for Primary Care Providers (Third Edition, June 2005): http://qap.sdsu.edu/screening/breastcancer/bda/flowcharts/pain_algo6.html

    Cancer Research UK: Breast Cancer Symptoms: http://www.cancerhelp.org.uk/type/breast-cancer/about/breast-cancer-symptoms#signs

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Breast Cancer Statistics: http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/breast/statistics/

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Breast Cancer Rates by Age: http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/breast/statistics/age.htm

    University of Cincinnati: Breast Cancer: http://www.netwellness.uc.edu/healthtopics/breastcancer/qa1.cfm

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