In a recent conversation with a friend whose mum died due to breast cancer, she made a striking statement: 

“It started out like all cancers start – a lump.”

Lumps are swellings found on or beneath the skin of any part of the body. They include cysts, warts and random pockets of tissue or fluid and are also the often-ignored first pages of most cancer stories. However, cancer is beyond stories. It is a real-life condition that happens to real people. 

The average human will find lumps in their armpit, groin or breast at least once in a lifetime. While most lumps are harmless and disappear without treatment, some have features that raise concern. 

Keep reading to know what breast lumps mean and what to do about them. 

What Are Breast Lumps? 

Instagram / fibroadomena_awareness

Simply put, breast lumps are localized swellings in the breast. This means the tissue in that part of the breast feels different from the tissue around it or the tissue in that part of the sister breast.

Hard, soft, large, small, painless, painful, cancerous(malignant), non-cancerous(benign); breast lumps can be any or a combination of these. Of the non-cancerous lumps, fibroadenomas are quite common. Breast fibroadenomas are usually painless, solid and often accidentally discovered. 

These firm lumps are suspected to be related to breast sensitivity to the female reproductive hormone, estrogen. As such, they are common during pregnancy and contraceptive use. Studies show that fibroadenomas are generally found before 30 years of age in most women. 

In actuality, fibroadenomas can occur anytime and for any reason. What matters most is the development. Cue the cancerous breast lumps or tumors which mean this is not just swollen tissue, it’s a cluster of cancer cells that can spread to other parts of the body including immune cells.

A breast lump might be cancerous if it is accompanied by: 

  • Pain or the lack thereof
  • Breast swelling
  • Skin irritation
  • Skin dimpling
  • Flaky breast skin 
  • Nipple discharge, pain or inversion
  • Change in breast size or shape

Although 80% of breast lumps are non-cancerous, it’s best to get a hundred per cent of them checked by your doctor. Like with Rachel Zegler, it just might be what changes everything.

Rachel Zegler’s Cancer Scare

Instagram / Rachel Zegler 

Rachel Zegler is 22 years old, an American singer and your next Snow White! The award-winning actress will be starring in Disney’s Snow White as none other than the star of the show, Snow White. 

Like you, Zegler is a woman with dreams and aspirations. In 2022, she shared details of a health scare on her social media platforms. She revealed through her Instagram Stories that she found a lump in her breast at 19. 

“Two years ago, I found a lump in my breast and went through what was undoubtedly the scariest week of my life,” she wrote. 

“No OB/GYN was taking new patients due to the backlog of the pandemic, but I was fortunate to have the care of my pediatrician who prescribed me an ultrasound, which led to an out-patient biopsy procedure. Thankfully, it was benign.”

“And now, the scar serves as a reminder to check my breasts regularly for any irregular growth – the fibroadenoma in my left breast is a common occurrence but nevertheless extremely scary to find. Early detection saves lives!!! Check your titty meat :).”

Note these phrases: “OB/GYN”, “ultrasound”, and “biopsy”. Oftentimes, breast cancers are written about, but the danger of leaving a breast lump unexamined is underemphasised. What happens after lump discovery? Find out here.

What To Do If You Find A Lump In Your Breast  

Unsplash / Victoria Strukovskaya 

First step, do not panic. Second step, do not wait for the lump to leave of its own accord. Take it from Zegler, the first thing to do if you find a lump in your breast is see your physician. 

Short for obstetrician/gynaecologist, an OB/GYN is a doctor who specializes in medical matters related to pregnancy and female reproductive health. This person has studied the woman body extensively and is the best to speak to about your woman body.

If an OB/GYN is unavailable, your next best option is a general practitioner(GP). A GP is qualified to treat a wide range of medical conditions and will be able to connect you with an OB/GYN.

In addition to a breast exam and questions about your medical history, your doctor will most likely recommend an ultrasound or a mammogram. Both involve taking images of the tissue in your body or in this case, your breasts. The results also provide details like whether the lump is benign, harmful, solid or fluid-filled, helping you and your doctor to figure out the next step.

If the test results are worrisome, your doctor may recommend a follow-up test. A common one is the breast biopsy. A needle biopsy extracts fluid or some tissue from the lump while a surgical biopsy removes part or all of the lump for examination under a microscope. 


Finding a breast lump can be terrifying. Discovering a lump anywhere there should not be one is disturbing. However, the National Cancer Institute reassures that most lumps are not cancer. If you find a lump under your arm or near your breast, get that checked out too. 

Breast changes range from nipple discharge to size change and lump discoveries and can occur anytime. However, science accounts for each of these, so whatever happens, let your doctor’s office be your next stop. As Zegler says, early detection saves lives!

Dr O’s Notes