When you find a lump somewhere on your chest, your thoughts might immediately turn to cancer, particularly breast cancer. But there are actually many things other than cancer that can cause a chest lump.
For example, it could be a cyst or an abscess. And even if it does turn out to be a tumor, there’s a good chance it’s benign.
The chest includes the breasts and skin. It also includes the chest cavity (thoracic cavity), which contains the spinal column, ribs, and breastbone (sternum). Behind the ribs and sternum are the heart, lungs, and esophagus.
The chest cavity also contains muscle, connective tissue, and membranes, as well as lymph nodes, arteries, and veins.
We look at some of the causes of chest lumps and what to expect when you see a doctor.
Even benign chest lumps can cause problems if they grow too large, so it’s important to get a diagnosis. The following are some types of lumps that might develop in the chest:
A cyst is a sac filled with fluid or other material. Breast cysts usually happen in women between 35 and 50 years old and are common with the approach of menopause.
You can also get a breast cyst from a blocked milk duct (galactocele).
Breast cysts may get bigger and more tender just before your period. When they develop just under the skin, they feel soft and smooth. When they develop deeper down, they can feel hard.
Breast cysts are usually painless, unless they grow particularly large. They’re rarely cancerous.
Among women, fibroadenomas are the most common benign breast lumps. The painless lump can happen at any age, but particularly in your 20s or 30s.
The lump is firm and smooth, and it moves freely when you touch it.
A lipoma is a clump of fatty tissue just underneath the skin. Lipomas are slow growing and painless, unless they press on a nerve or grow around blood vessels. They feel rubbery and move when you push on them.
Anyone can develop a lipoma, but they’re usually diagnosed in people between 40 and 60 years old.
Lipomas are usually harmless and almost always benign. However, there’s a very rare type of cancer called liposarcoma that grows in fatty tissues and can appear to be a deep lipoma.
Fat necrosis happens when fatty breast tissue is damaged from an injury to the breast or following lumpectomy or radiation treatment. This noncancerous lump is painless, round, and firm.
Sometimes, a breast lump turns out to be an abscess. That’s a build-up of pus that becomes inflamed.
Symptoms can include:
A hematoma is a blood-filled mass caused by a surgical procedure or injury to the breast. It should heal on its own.
This happens when there’s an overgrowth of tissues in breast lobules. It can cause lumps that look like calcifications on a mammogram.
Nodular fasciitis is a type of benign tumor that can occur anywhere in the body, including the chest wall, but rarely in the breasts.
The lump is fast growing, feels firm, and might have irregular margins. It may cause a certain amount of tenderness.
Injury to the chest
Sometimes, a superficial lump can form shortly after an injury to the chest. It may be painful, but pain and swelling are likely to improve when you apply ice.
Bone tuberculosis can cause lumps in the chest wall, ribs, spinal column, and sternum. Other symptoms include:
- weight loss
A lump in the breast can be a sign of breast cancer. Cancerous lumps are usually hard and have irregular edges, but lumps due to breast cancer can also be soft or round. They may or may not be painful.
Other signs of breast cancer include:
- dimpling of the skin
- red, flaky, or thickening skin
- swelling of the breast, even if there’s no noticeable lump
- nipple turning inward
- nipple discharge
- nipple or breast pain
- swollen lymph nodes under the arm or around the collar bone
In addition to those listed above, there are some other reasons you can develop a lump in the middle of your chest.
A broken sternum is usually the result of blunt force trauma, like a car accident, sports injury, or fall from a great height. You might also have swelling, bruising, or hematoma.
Hodgkin’s lymphoma is a type of blood cancer that can also affect organs and lymph nodes. It’s not common, but it can sometimes affect bones, including the ribs, spine, and sternum.
Symptoms may include:
- chest pain
- weight loss
Xiphoid syndrome is a rare condition that causes inflammation of the lower tip of the sternum, which is called the xiphoid process.
In addition to the lump, it can cause pain in the sternum, chest, and back. It can be caused by blunt trauma or repetitive injury.
An epigastric hernia occurs just below the sternum and above the navel, usually in children. It can be present at birth or can develop later due to weak or strained abdominal muscles.
Other symptoms include swelling, discomfort, or pain that worsens during a sneeze or cough.
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Benign lumps are usually soft and movable, while cancerous lumps tend to be hard and immovable.
If you have a new lump on your chest, it’s a good idea to see a doctor, especially if accompanied by:
- chest pain
- muscle atrophy
- chest expansion
- impaired movement
You should also see a doctor if you have a personal or family history of cancer or have experienced trauma to the chest.
A doctor will ask you questions about how long you’ve had the lump, how fast it’s growing, and any other symptoms.
In some cases, a physical examination will be enough to diagnosis the lump. This may be the case with cysts, fibroadenoma, and lipoma. Many times, other testing is necessary to make a diagnosis.
Imaging tests can help provide a detailed view of the chest to determine the lump’s exact location and size. It can also help determine if the lump is growing too close to blood vessels, bones, or internal organs.
These are some of the imaging tests you may need:
- chest X-ray
- CT scan
- chest MRI
- breast ultrasound
The only way to rule out or confirm cancer is with a biopsy. A biopsy involves taking a tissue sample for examination under a microscope.
Depending on the location of the lump, this can be accomplished by needle aspiration or surgical biopsy.
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Treatment for chest lumps depends on the cause.
Watch and wait
Sometimes, a doctor may want to watch and monitor the lump to see if it goes away on its own before choosing a treatment. That may be the case with lipomas and some cysts.
Lumps due to chest injury can be treated with over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers and anti-inflammatories.
Abscesses, extrapulmonary tuberculosis, and other infectious causes may be treated with antibiotics or other medications.
Noncancerous tumors may need to be surgically removed if they interfere with blood vessels, muscles, bones, or major organs.
Fibroadenomas, fat necrosis, and sclerosing adenosis are usually surgically removed. Because nodular fasciitis is difficult to differentiate from cancer, these lumps should also be removed.
Surgery may be an option for injuries to the bone.
Primary malignant tumors are typically surgically removed. In some cases, a chest tumor can be secondary, meaning it spread to the chest from another part of the body. When that’s the case, surgical options depend on the extent of the disease.
In addition to surgery, other treatments for cancer may include:
- radiation therapy
- targeted therapies
- palliative care
- clinical trials
Chest lumps can be caused by a variety of factors. Most aren’t cancerous and many are easily treatable.
If you have a lump of unknown origin, ask a doctor if you should have it checked out. Whatever the cause, early diagnosis and treatment generally results in more options and a better outcome.
What causes lumps on the chest? ›
A painless lump on the chest can most commonly be caused by a skin condition like an abscess, wart, or cysts. Rare causes for a painless chest wall lump include non cancerous cell growth known as lipoma, dermatofibroma, or breast cancer.Can chest lumps go away? ›
Chest lumps caused by mild conditions like minor injuries or infections are usually temporary. They will subside as the underlying condition resolves or your doctor's treatment begins to take effect. Chest lumps that persist in growth over time may signal more serious conditions, such as cancerous tumors.What does a mass on the chest mean? ›
Non-cancerous chest wall tumors are fairly common. They require treatment only when they cause problems, such as pain or difficulty breathing. Types of benign chest wall tumors include osteochondroma, chondroma, and fibrous dysplasia. Malignant chest wall tumors are much rarer and require treatment.What is the most common cause of lumps? ›
The most common cause of skin lumps is trauma or injury. This type of lump is sometimes called a goose egg. It occurs when you hit your head or another part of your body. Your skin will begin to swell, causing a lump that may also be bruised.Are chest lumps normal? ›
Finding a breast lump or other change in a breast might cause worry about breast cancer. That's understandable. But breast lumps are common. Most often they're noncancerous (benign), particularly in younger women.How do doctors diagnose lumps? ›
The GP will look at your lump. They may be able to tell you what's causing it. If they're unsure, they might refer you to hospital for tests, such as a biopsy (where a very small sample of the lump is removed and tested) or an ultrasound scan.What do cancerous chest lumps feel like? ›
A cancerous lump is usually hard, not soft or squishy. And it often has angular, irregular, asymmetrical edges, as opposed to being smooth, Dr. Comander says.How do you dissolve a lump in your chest? ›
- lumpectomy, or removing the lump.
- mastectomy, which refers to removing your breast. tissue.
- chemotherapy, which uses drugs to fight or. destroy the cancer.
- radiation, a treatment that uses radioactive. rays or materials to fight the cancer.
It's important to talk with your doctor about any lumps that are larger than two inches (about the size of a golf ball), grow larger, or are painful regardless of their location. “Tell your doctor about new lumps or other symptoms that cannot be explained or that don't go away in a few weeks,” Dr. Shepard says.How long does a lump usually last? ›
'Most lumps are usually nothing to worry about,' says Dr Roshaan Saloojee, a Livi GP. 'But sometimes a lump may need treatment or immediate care. You should see a GP if you have concerns about a lump or if it persists for more than 2 weeks.
What is the most common chest mass? ›
The most common primary malignant chest wall tumors are chondrosarcomas.Would a chest xray show a tumor? ›
Most lung tumours appear on X-rays as a white-grey mass. However, chest X-rays cannot give a definitive diagnosis because they often cannot distinguish between cancer and other conditions, such as a lung abscess (a collection of pus that forms in the lungs).
An exostosis, also called a bony spur, occurs when a bony growth extends beyond a bone's usual smooth surface. Exostosis can cause chronic pain or irritation, depending on its size and location. See chest wall pain. Sometimes, cartilage will grow over an area of exostosis, which is called osteochondroma.Which lumps are harmless? ›
Fibroadenomas are solid, smooth, firm, noncancerous (benign) lumps that are most commonly found in women in their 20s and 30s. They are the most common benign lumps in women and can occur at any age.What kind of lumps appear suddenly? ›
Most lumps and swellings are benign (not cancerous) and are harmless, especially the kind that feel soft and roll easily under the fingers (such as lipomas and cysts). A lump or swelling that appears suddenly (over 24 to 48 hours) and is painful is usually caused by an injury or an infection.How can you tell if a lump is cancerous? ›
However, the only way to confirm whether a cyst or tumor is cancerous is to have it biopsied by your doctor. This involves surgically removing some or all of the lump. They'll look at the tissue from the cyst or tumor under a microscope to check for cancer cells.How do I know if my lumps are normal? ›
If you feel the same lumpiness in both breasts, or there isn't one lump that's firmer than the others, it's most likely your normal breast tissue. That said, if you find a lump that feels harder, in only one breast, or one that just feels different than what you usually feel, address it with your doctor.Are lumps always cancerous? ›
Although any lump formed by body cells may be referred to technically as a tumor. Not all tumors are malignant (cancerous). Most breast lumps – 80% of those biopsied – are benign (non-cancerous). Following are examples of the most common benign breast conditions which produce lumps.Are cancerous lumps painful? ›
A lump or mass in the breast is the most common symptom of breast cancer. Lumps are often hard and painless, although some are painful. However, not all lumps are cancer. Benign breast conditions (like cysts) that can also cause lumps.What kind of doctors treat lumps? ›
Dermatologists are specially trained to know which lump or bump needs to be biopsied, which need to be treated or removed, and which can be left alone.
What kind of doctor treats lumps under the skin? ›
Your dermatologist can do a physical exam to diagnose your skin lump. If there's something concerning (for example, a skin lump or bump is growing), then a biopsy will likely be recommended, says Seminario-Vidal. Depending on where the lump is located or how deep it is under the skin, a dermatologist can do the biopsy.How do you know if a lump is abnormal? ›
A breast lump that's painless, hard, irregularly shaped and different from surrounding breast tissue might be breast cancer. Skin covering the lump may look red, dimpled or pitted like the skin of an orange. Your breast size and shape may change, or you may notice discharge from the nipple.Can lump be treated without surgery? ›
If you have been diagnosed as having a non-cancerous lump in your breast, you don't have to live with it. You can have it removed, without surgery. The breast specialists of Bedford Breast Center offer the finest, most comprehensive fibroadenoma treatment in Los Angeles.What foods get rid of breast lumps? ›
- Leafy green vegetables. These are just a few of the leafy green vegetables that may have anticancer properties: ...
- Cruciferous vegetables. ...
- Allium vegetables. ...
- Citrus fruits. ...
- Berries. ...
- Peaches, apples, pears, and grapes. ...
- Fatty fish. ...
- Fermented foods.
Breast lump treatment includes: Antibiotics for a breast infection. Fluid drainage for a breast cyst (if it is large or painful). Excisional biopsy to remove a mass (if suspicious for cancer, painful or enlarging).When should I worry about a lump on my chest? ›
The lump is new and feels firm or fixed. The lump doesn't go away after 4 to 6 weeks. Or it has changed in size or in how it feels. You notice skin changes on your breast such as crusting, dimpling, puckering, or a change in color, including red and pink.Can a lump go away? ›
In many cases, they go away without treatment. It's not always possible to tell exactly what caused a lump. If you notice one, keep an eye on it. In general, soft, movable lumps are harmless and will likely improve with time.What helps lumps go away? ›
- Rest the injured part.
- Ice it with a cold pack or ice wrapped in a cloth, 20 minutes on and 20 minutes off.
- Compress the area with a bandage which is firm, but not tight.
- Elevate the injured part.
A lumpectomy is usually performed using general anesthesia, which will put you into a sleep-like state during the procedure. Your surgeon will make an incision over the tumor or over the area that contains the wire or seed, remove the tumor and some surrounding tissue, and send it to the lab for analysis.What happens after a lump is removed? ›
For 1 or 2 days after the surgery, you will probably feel tired and have some pain. The skin around the cut (incision) may feel firm, swollen, and tender, and be bruised. Tenderness should go away in about 2 or 3 days, and the bruising within 2 weeks. Firmness and swelling may last for 3 to 6 months.
What is the difference between a nodule and a mass? ›
Tumors that are generally larger than three centimeters (1.2 inches) are called masses. If your tumor is three centimeters or less in diameter, it's commonly called a nodule.Can you get lipomas on your chest? ›
Lipomas can occur anywhere in the body. They are typically: Situated just under the skin. They commonly occur in the neck, shoulders, back, abdomen, arms and thighs.Are lipomas on the chest common? ›
Lipomas represent the most common soft-tissue chest wall tumors. They are well-circumscribed, encapsulated masses of adipose tissue that may lie deep within the chest wall and/or protrude into the thorax displacing the pleura mimicking other benign or malignant pleural lesions.Can you feel a tumor on your chest? ›
Tumors in the chest wall typically manifest as painful, quickly growing and easily palpable masses. Surgery is often necessary, and may be followed by plastic surgery reconstruction to recreate a normal appearance.Can chest MRI detect tumors? ›
MRI has proven valuable in diagnosing a broad range of conditions, including heart and vascular disease, heart valve abnormalities, bone, and other soft tissue abnormalities of the chest. MRI is also useful for staging tumors.Why would a doctor order a CT scan of the chest? ›
Why is this test done? A CT scan of the chest can help find problems such as infection, lung cancer, blocked blood flow in the lung (pulmonary embolism), and other lung problems. It also can be used to see if cancer has spread into the chest from another area of the body.What is a chest wall lump? ›
Chest wall tumors are growths that form in your chest wall, which is the protective structure surrounding your heart, lungs and liver. They may be cancerous or noncancerous. The most common type of cancerous chest wall tumor in adults is chondrosarcoma.Why do I have a hard lump on my upper chest below my collar bone? ›
Swollen lymph nodes
Lymph nodes can become swollen if you have an injury or are fighting an infection or other illness. This is because your body carries more white blood cells to this area to combat the problem. This can result in swelling and a lump near your collarbone.
The most common reason for a lump forming on the ribs is something known as a lipoma, which is a collection of fatty tissue. This type of lump can lie beneath the surface of the skin covering a rib. They are usually painless, freely mobile under your fingers and stay the same over time.How do you know if a chest lump is cancerous? ›
- Chest X-ray.
- Computed tomography (CT) scan.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
- Positron emission tomography (PET) scan combined with CT.
When should I be concerned about a lump? ›
See a GP if:
your lump is painful, red or hot. your lump is hard and does not move. your lump lasts more than 2 weeks. a lump grows back after it's been removed.
Bumps that are cancerous are typically large, hard, painless to the touch and appear spontaneously. The mass will grow in size steadily over the weeks and months. Cancerous lumps that can be felt from the outside of your body can appear in the breast, testicle, or neck, but also in the arms and legs.Can you always feel a cancerous lump? ›
Although some breast cancers may first announce their presence by nipple secretions, changes in the nipple's appearance, nipple tenderness or dimpling or puckering of the skin, most malignant tumors appear first as SINGLE, HARD LUMPS OR THICKENINGS that are frequently, but not always, painless.How do you know if a lump is movable? ›
A moveable lump means that you can easily move it beneath the skin with your fingertips.What kind of lump is concerning? ›
A breast lump that's painless, hard, irregularly shaped and different from surrounding breast tissue might be breast cancer. Skin covering the lump may look red, dimpled or pitted like the skin of an orange. Your breast size and shape may change, or you may notice discharge from the nipple.What type of doctor do you see for a lump? ›
Most lumps are harmless and do not need any treatment. However, it is very important to see your GP if you have any concerns about the lump, or if the lump doesn't disappear within two weeks.What doctor do you see for a lump? ›
After you have marked the lump's location, call your primary care physician or gynecologist to schedule an appointment. Your physician will examine your breasts and the lump in question. She may schedule imaging to get a better look at the breast tissue, and if necessary, a biopsy.How long does it take to find out if a lump is cancerous? ›
Breast cancer has to divide 30 times before it can be felt. Up to the 28th cell division, neither you nor your doctor can detect it by hand. With most breast cancers, each division takes one to two months, so by the time you can feel a cancerous lump, the cancer has been in your body for two to five years.What are the signs that you have a cancerous lymph node? ›
- Painless swelling of lymph nodes in your neck, armpits or groin.
- Persistent fatigue.
- Night sweats.
- Shortness of breath.
- Unexplained weight loss.
- Itchy skin.
There are often no obvious symptoms in the early stages of soft tissue sarcomas, although you may notice a soft, painless lump under your skin or deeper, that can't easily be moved around and gets bigger over time. You should speak to your GP if you have a worrying lump or any other troublesome symptoms.