Everyone finds bumps and lumps on their bodies from time to time. Usually they’re temporary irritations, but what if they’re not? When should you be concerned that a bump warrants an appointment with your physician?
First, you shouldn’t panic, says Dr. Mike Haughton, an oncologist with Tidelands Health Oncology at Myrtle Beach. Bumps are often the result of an infection somewhere in the body instead of cancer or another serious condition.
Often, a swollen lymph gland feels like a hard bump. They’re usually small — about the size of a pea — and found in the neck, behind the collarbone, in the armpits, groin and elsewhere in the body. A lymph gland’s role is to rid the body of toxins and dead blood cells. So when you have an illness or slight infection, these glands swell, becoming much larger and more noticeable.
“Most of the time, these are swollen and tender due to infections, often a viral upper respiratory infection,” Dr. Haughton says, adding that the swelling should subside within a few days. If it doesn’t, you should consult a physician for further evaluation or testing.
“If someone has persistently swollen lymph nodes, the swelling doesn’t resolve over several weeks to months or they are continuously getting larger and other areas are beginning to swell, they should be evaluated by a physician,” Dr. Haughton says.
Cysts also feel like small bumps under your skin. There are myriad reasons why you could develop one. Clogged oil glands, infections or growths around a foreign body (like a piercing) can result in cysts. They are often hard and can be filled with pus, fluid or another material. Usually painless, cysts may go away on their own or you may need medical treatment to have the cyst drained.
Lumps in Your Breasts
Sometimes women discover lumps in their breasts during a self-examination. While concerning, a lump doesn’t always mean cancer. Cysts, abscesses and fibroadenomas each feel like a bump or lump, but they’re usually not cancerous. Lumps in the breast with these characteristics are more concerning.
- A thick mass that stays the same, even when you’re not on your menstrual cycle
- Veins that bulge and continuously grow
- Dimpled skin that looks similar to an orange peel
- A bump that doesn’t go away within a month or continues to get larger
If you discover a lump in your breast, you should always consult your physician, Dr. Haughton says. Doing so can help determine the cause of the lump and identify the proper course of treatment, as necessary.
Sometimes a bump’s cause may not be obvious, and you may be uncertain if you should seek medical care. If you are concerned, it’s always best to visit with your physician or other qualified care provider for an evaluation. Generally speaking, a bump with these characteristics is of less concern:
- It’s soft.
- You can trace the cause of the bump to a certain injury or activity.
- It moves when touched.
- It gets larger and painful during activity and smaller when you rest.
However, if you find a hard, immovable bump that isn’t sore to the touch, be sure to consult a physician. It’s also a good idea to check with a physician regarding bumps in the breasts or groin, if a bump seems to be getting larger quickly or if you are just concerned.
“If nothing else, a visit with a physician can help ease your concerns,” Dr. Haughton says. “It’s always better to err on the side of caution.”
Dr. Mike Haughton
Oncologist, Tidelands Health Oncology at Myrtle Beach
University of Kentucky
University of Kentucky, Oncology
Wake Forest Baptist Hospital, Hematology and Oncology