How can I tell a cancerous lump from a benign lump in my breast?

The only way to determine if a lump is cancerous or benign is through a medical examination.

Dr. Stuart A. Linder, MD
Plastic Surgeon
Studies indicate that is is not always possible for a physician to be completely certain whether a breast lump is benign or malignant without radiographic imaging (ultrasound and mammogram). A breast biopsy may even be required for definitive diagnosis. Signs that increase the likelihood of malignancy include: firm and hard, not discrete, fixed to other breast tissue, solitary lump, dimpling of skin, bloody discharge from nipple, and no similar contralateral breast mass. 
A biopsy can determine if a breast lump is cancerous or benign. A biopsy is a diagnostic surgical procedure in which a tiny bit of the breast tumor is removed and examined under a microscope.
At Penn, surgeons perform several different types of biopsies based the amount of tissue being removed. Some biopsies use a very fine needle, while others use thicker needles or even require a small surgical procedure to remove more tissue. The breast cancer team decides which type of biopsy to use depending on the particular breast mass.

If you feel a lump in your breast, there is really no way to tell if it is cancerous or benign by the way it feels.

In medical school, we learned about some ways to tell whether it "might" be one or the other and this has lead many in the medical profession to make management recommendations based on the different ways a lump feels. But the truth is that you cannot and should not make an assessment and plan for a breast lump without getting a breast ultrasound, mammogram or both.

Now, it turns out that the vast majority of breast lumps are NOT CANCER. But, in the world of breast health, we have set our needles to "SAFE" rather than "SORRY." So, if you feel a new lump in your breast, it is crucial that you show it to your doctor so that a thorough assessment of the lump can be done.

Do not tell yourself it's probably OK because of how it feels or because it doesn't hurt. Or because your friend had a lump and it was nothing. Get it checked out!

Most breast cancer lumps feel firm and irregular in shape; they may feel hard like a rock. If the lump is also associated with skin changes such as thickening or inward dimpling, or nipple discharge, be sure to have it evaluated by your physician. On the other hand, some breast cancers may feel less obvious and softer. It’s important that any change in the feel of your breast, or any new lump, be evaluated by your physician. Never take for granted that any lump is not cancer until it is evaluated by your physician.
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

Many times a lump in the breast is a benign cyst, but how do you know if the lump is cancerous?

Watch the video to find out from Dr. Oz how you can tell a benign lump from a cancerous lump in your breast.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.