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I felt a lump in my chest while applying lotion, what could it be if it isn't cancer?

August 06, 2013

"While applying lotion, I felt a strange lump on my chest that has not always been there. I was wondering if there are different reasons why a mass would build in the breast, other than the obvious. I have made a doctors appointment for tomorrow morning to get it checked out. Thanks!"

Feeling a new breast lump on self-exam can understandably cause concern and anxiety. With 1 in 9 women developing breast cancer in their lifetime, almost everyone has some personal experience with this disease – either with a family member or friend.  A self-breast exam is a time-honored recommendation to assist in the early detection of breast cancer. However, there are some studies suggesting that self-breast exams may cause more anxiety than afford real benefit in early detection.

The breast is composed of glandular elements (lobules and ducts), fibrous supporting tissue, and fat. Each of these elements is affected by normal hormonal changes throughout a women’s menstrual cycle. A number of benign lumps can occur, in part due to proliferation (overgrowth), of these elements. These include cysts, fibroadenomas (fibrous growths), and lipomas (fatty growths). Also, many women have an abundance of fibrous tissue that oftentimes is referred to as fibrocystic change. This tissue is not always evenly distributed across the breast and can lead to the perception of a “lump” on exam.

The purpose of a self-breast exam is not necessarily to make a diagnosis, but, rather, to identify a change. When a change is noted, further evaluation is indicated. This usually will include a physical exam by your primary physician, and then, depending on your age, a mammogram and/or ultrasound. These studies can determine the nature of lump for a majority of women. However, if a lump persists (even if the radiology studies are negative),  we would recommend a further evaluation by a breast surgeon.