Breast Lump: If It’s Not Painful, Is It Not Cancer?

Medically Reviewed By: Beth Overmoyer, MD

Many people who discover a breast lump confide in a friend or family member before talking to their doctor. They may be told that if a breast lump hurts or is sore, it probably isn’t cancer. To find out whether this urban legend holds any truth, we checked with Beth Overmoyer, MD, FACP, of Dana-Farber’s Susan F. Smith Center for Women’s Cancers.

If a lump in the breast does not feel sore or tender, does that mean it isn’t cancer?

Between 2 and 7 percent of patients with a painful lump in their breast will be diagnosed with breast cancer. A lump is usually hard or firm compared with surrounding breast tissue. The presence of pain should not be reassuring — anyone who notices a new lump in her (or his) breast should contact a doctor.

Does breast cancer hurt?

It’s unclear why some breast cancers are painful and others aren’t, but pain is not an indication of cancer being more or less aggressive. The most likely reason is that the cancer is irritating the nerves within the breast, but the true cause isn’t known.

If you can move the lump around, does that mean it isn’t cancer?

Early detected breast cancer is often “mobile,” meaning that it can be moved within the breast tissue. This is actually a good sign, because cancerous lumps that are “fixed” to the skin of the breast or the chest wall are often associated with a more advanced cancer that has involved other parts of the breast, not just the fatty tissue. Mobile breast lumps have a greater chance of being surgically removed, and you should bring them to your doctor’s attention immediately.

How often should I perform a self-exam?

Dana-Farber does not recommend relying solely on self-exams to find early-stage cancer. Your doctor should perform breast exams at your annual physical. It’s important to discuss your risk for breast cancer with your doctor and make a plan for prevention — and mammograms — together.

When to worry about a breast lump

The best way to truly solve any anxiety or worry you have about a breast lump is to have the lump examined by a medical professional. They will be able to determine the cause. Remember that the majority of breast lumps end up being benign, but it is still very important to have a professional give you a definitive answer.

For more information about breast cancer research and treatment, visit Dana-Farber’s Susan F. Smith Center for Women’s Cancers website.

About the Medical Reviewer

Beth Overmoyer, MD

Dr. Overmoyer launched the Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC) Program at DF/BWCC in 2009, where she continues to serve as the principal investigator of many IBC research programs and clinical trials. She began her oncology career in 1989 at the University of Pennsylvania, where she trained in breast cancer and also participated in a major study in inflammatory breast cancer. She went on to develop the breast cancer program at the Cleveland Clinic and later developed two National Cancer Institute-sponsored studies on angiogenesis inhibitors and inflammatory breast cancer.

173 thoughts on “Breast Lump: If It’s Not Painful, Is It Not Cancer?”

  1. i’m only 14 years old so i’m pretty sure i don’t have breast cancer but i have read that it is possible. On my right breast just next to the nipple i have a very small almost sharp lump that hurts even when not touching or pressing it. What could this be?

    • Dear Ava–

      We are sorry to hear about your health concerns. Unfortunately, we cannot give out medical advice on this blog or over email. It is best for you and your parents to discuss your symptoms with your doctor — he/she will be able to give you the best advice.

      Keep in mind that most breast changes are not related to cancer. In fact, some studies estimate that as many as 80 percent of breast lumps are benign (meaning they are not cancerous). Here is more information on some of the many potential causes of breast pain or lumps. We wish you all the best.

  2. I found a lump in my breast a month ago and it hurts I don’t know if it would be cancer since it hurts.

    • Dear Tabitha —

      We are sorry to hear about your health concerns. Unfortunately, we cannot give out medical advice on this blog or over email. It is best for you to discuss your symptoms with your doctor — he/she will be able to give you the best advice.

      Keep in mind that most breast changes are not related to cancer. In fact, some studies estimate that as many as 80 percent of breast lumps are benign (meaning they are not cancerous). Here is more information on some of the many potential causes of breast pain or lumps. We wish you all the best.

  3. Hi I am 13. I have been doing lots of research on breast cancer. A couple mouths ago I have noticed a weird tiny lump in my left breast underneath my nipple. I thought it was just because I am still growing so I ignored it. My nipples would sometimes turn red, feel hot, and hurt. I ignored it. Me nipple to the circle around it with bumps is big enough to be cupped in my hands fully. I don’t know if it is because it’s swollen or if it grew that size but one thing I do know is that it has been like that for a little less than a year. It bother me that they were like that but didn’t think of it as anything bad. But about a week ago I took off my bra and noticed a dry brownish/yellow spot on the left cup. I did some research and learned that you can get nipple discharge when on your period and I just got my period for the mouth a day before that. So again I ignored it. Five day later, I woke up this morning for school and had pain in my left breast. I was still on my period so I knew it was common for girls to have sensitive breast during that time of month. I never had breast pain before so this got me I little worried. When I got home from school, I took off my bra because it was bothering me. That’s is when I notice another stop in my left cup, this time it was not dry. I checked my left breast and felt that the lump was A LOT BIGGER than before. I squeezed it to see what it felt like and a little bit above it yellowy/green liquid came out from one of those bumps around your nipple. I squeezed the liquid out and in the process found another spot where liquid came out above my nipple. After I squeezed out all the liquid I discovered that it wasn’t from the lump. The lump was still the same shape and didn’t decrease in size. Please help!!

  4. Dear Alexa —

    I’m sorry to hear about your recent health concerns. Unfortunately, we cannot give out medical advice on this blog or over email and it is best to discuss your concerns with your doctor when you can, as he/she can give you the best advice.

    Keep in mind that most breast changes are not related to cancer. In fact, some studies estimate that as many as 80 percent of breast lumps are benign (meaning they are not cancerous). Here is more information on some of the many potential causes of breast pain or lumps. I wish you all the best.

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