2. You Have Non-Cancerous Tumors
One of the most common breast lump culprits is fibroadenoma, says Ross. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), fibroadenoma are benign (a.k.a. non-cancerous) tumors made up of both glandular and connective breast tissue that are most common in women in their twenties and thirties. While fibroadenoma can vary in size—from microscopic to as big as an apricot—often times they are described as feeling firm, smooth, or rubbery and having a well-defined shaped, like a marble, says Ross. While they are harmless, if you have multiple fibroadenomas or they continue to grow in size, they may begin to impact the look and shape of your breasts and your doctor may recommend removing them.
3. You Have Cysts
Changes in the breast tissue caused by fibrosis and/or cysts are common and benign. “Fibrocystic breast changes affect about 60 percent of women,” says Ross. “A lot of times you’ll notice them where an underwire bra would hit.” Fibrosis is the name for a dense collection of fibrous tissue, the same kind of tissue that ligaments and scar tissue are made of. Areas of fibrosis may feel rubbery, firm, or hard to the touch. Meanwhile, cysts are round, movable, fluid-filled lumps most common in women in their forties. While both may get larger and more tender near your menstrual cycle, they aren’t caused by it. “These can get worse on your period and then improve, but they don’t go away,” says Ross. “We can still see them on an ultrasound.” Luckily, they are benign and can be improved by limiting your intake of caffeine and nicotine—common triggers that aggravate them, making them even more pronounced.
Watch this video for instructions on how to give yourself a breast self-exam:
4. You Have a Blood Clot
Although rare, a lump in your breasts can also be caused by Mondor’s disease. “[This] occurs as a result of a superficial thrombophlebitis (i.e. blood clot in the vein just beneath the skin) affecting the breast region,” says Nesochi Okeke-Igbokwe, M.D., attending physician at NYU Langone Medical Center. “One may feel a cord-like hardened lump of the breast which can be painful.” While the rare condition can affect any of the veins in the breast, it most commonly affects those on the outer side or under the nipple. It can also be caused by trauma to the breast region, overly vigorous exercise, or wearing a bra that is too tight. The good news is that it generally goes away on its own.
5. You Have Your Period
While the hormonal changes of your period can aggravate many of these other breast issues, your period itself will also cause your breast to swell and often feel…different. According to the National Cancer Institute, it’s normal to feel lumps and bumps during your menstrual cycle thanks to extra fluid in your chest due to hormones. (This should resolve itself once your time of the month is over.) Slow clap. Thanks, Aunt Flo.
The Bottom Line
Know thy breasts. Learn how to do a proper breast self-exam and check your breasts every month after your period (to avoid those hormonal changes that can impact breast tissue), says Ross. And if you’re concerned, don’t hesitate to make an appointment to see your doctor. While there are many breast lumps and bumps that are benign, more than 300,000 new cases of breast cancer are estimated to be diagnosed in 2016, according to the ACS. “Get examined if you notice a new lump, no matter your age,” says Peddi. “Breast cancer when discovered early is very treatable.”