What Does a Breast Lump Feel Like?

Medically Reviewed By: Harold J. Burstein, MD, PhD

Key Takeaway: Cancerous lumps tend to be irregular in shape and may feel firm or solid. Typically, a breast cancer lump doesn’t hurt, but in some cases, a painful lump turns out to be cancer. It is impossible to diagnose a breast lump just by touch, so it is important for you to speak with your doctor if you notice changes to your breasts.

Finding a lump in your breast can be frightening — but although breast cancer is the most common cancer found in women, most breast lumps are not cancer. In fact, more than 80 percent of them end up being benign. In a small percentage of women, a painful breast lump turns out to be cancer.

Experts at the Susan F. Smith Center for Women’s Cancers at Dana-Farber say it is important for women to speak with their doctor if they notice changes to their breasts.

What does a breast lump feel like?

In general, cancerous breast lumps tend to be more irregular in shape. They may also feel firm or solid, and might be fixed to the tissue in the breast. They are also often painless. However, in a small percentage of women, a painful breast lump turns out to be cancer.

Breast cancer lumps can vary in size. Typically, a lump has to be about one centimeter (about the size of a large lima bean) before a person can feel it; however, it depends on where the lump arises in the breast, how big the breast is, and how deep the lesion is.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer found in women, but most breast lumps are not cancer.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer found in women, but most breast lumps are not cancer.

Does breast cancer hurt?

Most breast cancers don’t cause pain. Breast pain, or mastalgia, is more likely related a person’s menstrual cycle if they have one. There are other benign conditions that can cause breast pain, such as cysts, fibroadenomas, or blocked milk ducts.

Breast cancer in early stages usually isn’t painful. Breast cancer typically doesn’t hurt until/if it becomes advanced. The majority of tumors won’t begin causing pain until they reach two centimeters in size, and even then, some may not cause pain.

Inflammatory breast cancer, a rare but aggressive form of breast cancer, can cause pain and present along with redness, a rash, and severe itching.

Remember, a painful lump doesn’t necessarily rule out cancer. If breast pain is severe or persists, you should consult your physician. They will be able to determine if it is being caused by cancer or another condition.

What kind of breast pain can indicate breast cancer?

Persistent or severe pain may be a sign of breast cancer. If breast pain is still present after two menstrual periods, for example, you should consult with a physician.

Specific and persistent pain in one breast may also be cause to visit the doctor. Benign pain typically affects both sides.

What does a tumor feel like under the skin?

Lumps, tumors, and all sorts of things one can feel in the breast can feel surprisingly similar: firm, as opposed to the normal, more spongy tissue of the breast. They are often irregularly shaped as opposed to a sphere or ball shape. Lumps are also usually mobile within the breast and can be moved around within the breast.

However, it’s important to note that this can vary from person to person. Ultimately, anytime you feel something that’s different from what your normal breast tissue feels like, or if you notice anything that generally feels unusual, you should speak to her medical team about that.

Where are breast cancer lumps usually found?

Lumps can appear anywhere within the breast. The location does not determine whether or not it is a breast cancer.

Do breast cancer lumps move?

Most lumps will be movable within the breast tissue on examination, but breast lumps typically do not “move” around the breast. However, sometimes a breast lump will be fixed, or stuck, to the chest wall.

What if I only feel a lump when I’m sitting?

Sometimes if the breast is positioned differently, you’ll feel different things. In general, regardless of how you are positioned, when you feel an abnormality in the breast — if it feels different or new — you should reach out to the medical team for an evaluation.

What if the lump feels like a ridge? What if I have a pea-sized lump in my breast that doesn’t move?

You should have a familiarity with your body and what the breast normally feels like, including its normal shape, appearance, and texture. Generally, women are advised to analyze their breasts in the shower with soapy fingers to get a nice feel of the normal tissues. If you do that and have some familiarity with your normal breast tissue, and then find something different, you should reach out to your medical team.

What does a hard lump in the breast mean?

Hard lumps in the breast can be either benign or malignant. The feel of the lump itself is rarely enough to determine if the lump is a cancerous one or not.

[Learn more about symptoms of breast cancer.]

Cancer tumors versus cysts and fibroadenomas

Cysts, which are fluid-filled lumps, are common in the breast and are benign. They form when fluid builds up inside breast glands and tend to be smooth or round. Fibroadenomas, which are benign tumors made up of glandular and connective breast tissue, are usually smooth and firm or rubbery to the touch. Both of these conditions tend to affect younger women; fibroadenomas are most common in women in their 20s and 30s, and cysts are most common in women under 40.

Despite these common descriptions, it is impossible to tell by touch whether a lump is cancer.

Always seek medical attention

“The key point is that anybody should seek medical attention for any concerning lumps in their breasts,” says Harold Burstein, MD, PhD, a breast oncologist with the Susan F. Smith Center.

Simple imaging techniques, such as a mammogram or breast ultrasound, can usually provide reassurance that the breast lump is benign. If necessary, a breast MRI or biopsy can be used to evaluate whether the lump is cancerous.

About the Medical Reviewer

Harold J. Burstein, MD, PhD

Dr. Burstein graduated from Harvard College before earning his MD at Harvard Medical School. He also received a PhD in cellular immunology and a master's degree in the history of science from Harvard. He trained in internal medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital before his oncology fellowship at DFCI. In 1999, he joined the staff of DFCI and Brigham and Women's Hospital, where he is a clinician and clinical investigator in the Breast Oncology Center.

28 thoughts on “What Does a Breast Lump Feel Like?”

  1. Hi
    I’m just a 11th grade students and I’ve been experiencing a pain in the side of my left breast near my armpit. It doesn’t swell or redden but it is quite painful when I touch it. There is a lump but it feels just like a tissue not hard. I’m very worried is it an early sign of breast cancer? The pain will go away but eventually the pain will return. I tried to ignore it at first but it really bothers me.

    Hoping for your reply

  2. Hi, im sean and Im 21. I actually noticed something hard, round and painless thingy on my right breast probably more than 5years from now. Theres nothing wrong happening to me externally but im worried to death that it might be cancerous its just that the effect is inside my body. But i was thinking that if nothings happening to me for the past 5years, maybe this is benign. But im still scared because my grandma had breast cancer. I already searched a lot on how to distinguish benign from malignant cyst but still, I could hardly understand it. Omg. Can you please help me? Im scared to go to a doctor and then tells me that I have a cancer ???? i just want to know if a cyst is cancerous, how long will it take for the effect on your body to occur or be visible? Thanks

    • Hi Sean,

      We’re 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).

      We wish you all the best.


      • Thank you for the answer. But i would like to know cos Im really curious about the lenght of time that a lump on the breast will have an effect on the body especially if it’s cancerous? Because in my case, its almost 5 years but i dont feel anything and any changes regarding my health. So i was like assuming it’s benign. Hopefully.

  3. I am 43 with known cysts and a known right breast firboadenoma. I had a mammogram last week which found a new solid oval circumscribed mass just adjacent to my known fibroadenoma (already biopsied with a marker placed) . The radiologist would not tell me mush except for he thought I should have it biopsied and a marker placed. The US tech stated to her it had the appearance of a fibro, but she could not be 100% for sure. I am now scheduled tomorrow with a breast surgeon for a consult and an us guided biopsy. What are the chances that this is another fibroadenoma? Im and so stressed waiting to find out.

  4. I found a lump in my breast went for a biopsy and told it was cancer but I am having chemo first because I have only got small breastst and he would not be able to do it but he said they were waiting for blood testsh

  5. I had a biopsy done on my left breast and results came back positive for cancer now I have to wait for appointment to have more tests done. I guess to see what needs to be done.,anyway my question is do you think that mammograms are pretty accurate? Because they did mammogram on my armpit she said to see if lymph nodes were swollen and if it had spread well she came back and said that they weren’t so more likely it’s just on the breast area. I just wanted to ask you if you think mammograms are accurate I been stressing so bad over this now I’m taking Tylenol for bad headache because I’m thinking about it. Thank you for your time

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