Find out which ones to worry about.
Where a lump or bump is on the body, along with how it looks and feels, can provide the first clue as to whether it is serious or not and whether you should show it to your doctor immediately or if it can wait. Finding a new lump or bump on your body can be worrisome, especially since, in rare cases, they can mean cancer. But not every bump or lump should cause concern or worry. The good news is that the majority of these lumps are harmless and not a cause for concern.
Lumps and bumps can usually be divided into two broad categories:
- Lesions that involve the skin and skin structures,
- Lesions that involve the tissues beneath the skin are called the subcutaneous connective tissues.
Sometimes, certain types of lesions can involve both the skin and the subcutaneous connective tissues.
Lumps that are not a cause for worry have some typical characteristics.
- Mobile, meaning they move and can be squishy or change form when you touch them.
- Located superficially or in the fat layer of the skin.
- Affected by activity, meaning they can grow large and painful with activity and become smaller and less painful with rest.
These benign or non-worrisome lumps include:
- Cysts, which can form when an oil-producing gland in the skin becomes clogged.
- Lipomas are a collection of harmless fatty cells.
- Swollen lymph nodes, which can accompany some types of infections.
- Swollen lymph nodes that feel like tender, painful lumps on either side of the neck, under the jaw, or armpit.
- Skin tags, small, soft, fleshy growths on the skin.
- Skin abscess, a hard, painful lump that may be red and hot to the touch. Skin abscesses usually contain pus and are a sign of infection.
- Lumps on the head, which are typically benign and are usually a result of ingrown hair, folliculitis, or a recent injury.
- Hives, which are red, raised, itchy, and painful bumps that appear suddenly on the skin. Often caused by an allergic reaction or by stress, most hives last several hours or several days.
- Keloids form when scar tissue continues to grow beyond an injured area to become a large bump on the skin. Keloids are generally not harmful, but they can be disfiguring or itchy.
- Moles come in many shapes, sizes, and colors, and are generally harmless unless they change shape, size, or color. This can be an early sign of skin cancer.
- Warts, small growths on the skin caused by a virus. They are contagious and may spread to other areas or to other people. Warts often go away on their own, but wart treatment is sometimes necessary.
Regardless of the above mentioned characteristics, if a lump or bump lasts for greater than 2 weeks it needs to be evaluated by your doctor.
It is important to be familiar with your body and examine yourself regularly, so you can spot any new changes or lumps quickly and get advice from a doctor if needed. Get into the habit of self-examining your armpits, breasts, or testicles and get to know what is and isn’t ‘normal’ for you.
Lumps that need to be shown to your doctor usually:
- Are hard, painless to touch, and appear suddenly.
- Continue to grow over weeks or months.
- Appear in organs such as the breast, testicle, groin, arms or legs, or neck.
- Are lymph nodes that persist and grow larger over a month or two, for example, in the armpit or neck.
- Starts to bleed or becomes a wound.
- Grow back after being removed.
- Are skin lesions that show asymmetry, color change, or are irregular.
If you notice any of these characteristics in a lump or bump in your body, trust your gut and reach out to your doctor as soon as possible. A thorough history and physical examination are the essential first steps in the evaluation, followed by certain diagnostic tests, which can include lab tests, diagnostic imaging, or biopsies. When it comes to cancer, there can be other accompanying symptoms such as fatigue, bleeding, fever, night sweats, weight gain or loss, changes in bowel habits, and changes in your appetite.
If the lump is benign, it may not require any treatment at all.
Your doctor may decide to monitor it over time and keep track of any changes. If the lump is a cyst and has become inflamed or infected, the doctor may drain it or perform a procedure called an intralesional injection in which medicine is directly injected into the lump in order to treat it. A lump can also be removed from under the skin if necessary. If there is clinical concern, the lump may be biopsied to look more closely at the cells inside the lump. A biopsy is considered the gold standard to rule out anything suspicious, such as a cancerous lesion.
Be your own advocate, and keep an eye out for any changes that are concerning. The earlier you notice any suspicious irregularity and bring it to attention, the better the chances of a successful treatment outcome.