Health Watch -- A Lump: Now What?

Health Watch is a Public Service of the  Office of News and Publications and is intended to provide general information only and should not replace the advice of a medical professional. You should contact your physician if you have questions about any of these topics.

When it comes to detecting breast cancer, women have one overriding fear: what if they find something?

First of all, if you feel a lump during a self-exam, don’t panic. Dr. Phil Evans, director of the Center for Breast Care at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, says that 80 to 90 percent of lumps turn out to be benign. There is still a chance of the lump being cancer, so for your own peace of mind you should call your doctor. Your doctor will probably conduct a physical exam, then send you for a mammogram or sonogram. With today’s technology, doctors have a far better idea if a suspicious spot is cancerous after those exams, before any additional tests are done.

If the spot is suspicious on the mammogram or sonogram, you may have a needle biopsy, which draws tissue from the affected area to be examined. If tests prove that there’s cancer, you would then see a surgeon about having the cancerous area removed.

But most lumps that women find on their own aren’t cancer. They could be what are called benign fibrous tumors of the breast. They could also be fluid-filled cysts or just dense, normal breast tissue. The important thing is that you consult a doctor if you notice anything suspicious or any changes in your breasts.