Breast Lumps: Myths vs. Facts

The oft-cited but confusing statistic that 1 out of 8 women will develop breast cancer during her lifetime creates a lot of understandable anxiety among women. The fear of finding a lump, even if it's not cancerous, just adds to the stress. Here are a few of the common myths about breast lumps.

Myth: If I have a lump, it's cancer.

Fact: Eight out of 10 lumps are benign (not cancerous) especially in younger women who have denser breast tissue. Cysts (fluid filled sacs), blood clots, pre-cancerous breast changes, and fibrocystic changes can all cause breast lumps. In fact, 25 percent of all breast lumps are cysts. They are common in premenopausal women 35 and older, but not in postmenopausal women (unless they received hormone therapy). In fact, a National Cancer Institute study found that women who use estrogen alone to reduce menopausal symptoms might be at higher risk for developing benign breast lumps. An injury or trauma to the breast may also cause a lump.

Myth: Breast cancer lumps are painful.

Fact: Breast cancer lumps are generally painless, but there is no correlation between painful lumps and the likelihood of cancer.

Myth: Breast cancer always appears as a lump.

Fact: Lumps are one symptom of breast cancer. Most breast cancers are detected during screening mammograms, when they are generally less than a centimeter in diameter and not yet large enough to feel. However, if you feel a lump or thickening in or near your breast or underarm area, see your physician promptly to rule out breast cancer.

Myth: Cancer lumps feel different from benign lumps.

Fact: There is no difference between how cancerous and benign lumps feel.

Myth: Despite new guidelines that recommend against Self-Breast Exams (SBEs), many women who have discovered cancer by performing a SBE, so they are still important to do.

Fact: Susan Love, MD, a breast health expert, does not advocate SBEs and likens them to anxiety filled, search-and-destroy missions. Instead, Dr. Love recommends that women become familiar with their own breasts, to know what they look like and to recognize what lumps and bumps are normal. Having this familiarity and comfort, she says, will then give you a sense if something is not right.

The National Cancer Institute estimates that more than 207,000 women will learn they have breast cancer in 2010. Make sure you have the facts about breast lumps.


Nicole Fawcett. "16 common myths about breast cancer." University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center. Web. 26 September 2006.

"Breast Cancer Myths." National Breast Cancer Foundation. Web.

 Lavina, Bharwani, M.D. "Breast Cancer Myths Debunked! Myths to ignore about Breast Cancer." John's Hopkins International Medical Center. Web.

Jamrog, Karen A. "True or False? Some Things You've Heard About Breast Cancer Are Myths." New Hampshire Magazine. Dartmouth-Hitchcock Norris Cotton Cancer Center. Web. 1 October 2009.

Harvey, Jennifer A., Nicholson, Brandi T., LoRusso, Alexander P., Cohen, Michael A. and Bovbjerg, Viktor E. "Short-term Follow-up of Palpable Breast Lesions with Benign Imaging Features: Evaluation of 375 Lesions in 320 Women." American Journal of Roentgenology 193(6) (2009): 1723-1730. Web. 17 March 2010.

"10 Most FAQ" and "Study Links Hormone Therapy to Benign Breast Lumps."  Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation. Web.