Most lumps are harmless and do not need any treatment. However, it is very important to see your GP if you have any concerns about the lump, or if the lump doesn't disappear within two weeks.
What are the common causes of a lump?
The possible causes of a lump depend on which part of the body the lump appears. Some types of lump can occur in many different parts of your body. Other types of lump are specific to one part of your body.
An injury to any part of your body can cause swelling or a lump. If the swelling or lump is very painful, you should see your doctor (or go to the local hospital accident and emergency) if you think the injury may have caused a broken bone.
Other common examples of lumps that can occur in different parts of your body include the following. See the links for more information on each type of lump:
- Epidermoid and pilar cysts (sebaceous cysts). These look like small smooth lumps under the surface of your skin. They are generally non-cancerous (benign) and usually cause no harm or problems. See the separate leaflet called Epidermoid and Pilar Cysts (Sebaceous Cysts).
- Lipoma. A lipoma is a benign fatty lump that usually causes no symptoms or problems. Lipomas often occur on the shoulder, back, chest or arm. Most lipomas are small and are best left alone. Larger lipomas can be removed by a simple operation done under local anaesthetic. See the separate leaflet called Lipoma.
- Swollen lymph glands. Swollen lymph glands are most often felt in your neck, under your armpit or in your groin. Most swollen lymph glands are caused by infection. Swollen lymph glands may occasionally be caused by more serious conditions such as cancer. See the separate leaflet called Swollen Lymph Glands.
- Skin abscess. An abscess is a collection of pus. Most abscesses form just under the skin. A boil is the most common example. In this case, a hair root becomes infected and develops into a small abscess. The symptoms of a skin abscess include swelling, redness, pain and warmth over the affected area. See the separate leaflet called Abscess.
Skin cancer usually causes a change in the appearance of your skin. Skin cancer does not usually cause a lump. See the separate leaflet called Skin Cancer Types.
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What are the other possible causes of a lump?
Some types of lumps are specific to one part of your body. There are many different causes of lumps but common examples include the following:
Lump on the face
The possible causes of a lump in the face include:
- Swelling on the eyelid, such as a stye or chalazion. See the separate leaflets called Stye and Chalazion.
- Swelling of a salivary gland, which may be caused by many conditions, including a salivary gland stone or infection with mumps. See the separate leaflets called Salivary Gland Stones (Salivary Calculi) and Mumps.
Lump in the neck or throat
The most common causes of lumps in the neck include swollen lymph glands or an enlarged thyroid gland. An enlarged thyroid gland may be an enlargement of the whole thyroid gland (goitre) or a may be a lump in one part of the thyroid gland.
Lump in the breast
Breast lumps are common and most breast lumps are not caused by breast cancer. However, any unusual changes in your breasts, including the appearance of a lump, should always be checked by a doctor as soon as possible.
This applies to men as well as women. Men can also develop a lump in the breast and can also have breast cancer (although this is rare compared with women).
Lump in the groin
The most common causes of a lump in the groin include a hernia or an enlarged lymph gland.
Lump in the scrotum
Most lumps in the scrotum are harmless and are not cancer. However, any man who has a lump in the scrotum should be checked by a doctor as soon as possible.
Lump around the back passage (anus)
The causes of a lump near to your back passage include:
- A pile (haemorrhoid): small veins (blood vessels) within the lining of the back passage sometimes become wider and engorged with more blood than usual. The engorged veins and the overlying tissue may then form into one or more small swellings called piles. See the separate leaflet called Piles (Haemorrhoids).
- An abscess. See the separate leaflet called Abscess.
Lump on the hand, wrist, finger or top of the foot
A lump on the hand, wrist, finger or the top of your foot may be a ganglion. This is a type of cyst that forms around the joints or tendons.
These days most people are quite aware of cancer. People often worry that any lump they find might be a cancerous one. Whilst most lumps are not cancer, there are certain features that make the possibility more likely.
These include the lump:
- Being very hard when you feel it.
- Having an irregular outline.
- Seeming fixed to the skin (or other structures) around it.
Many lumps are painful, but pain isn't usually a feature of cancer lumps. Other causes of a lump, such as an infected cyst or a lymph gland, are more likely. It is still sensible to have the lump checked, as you may need other treatment.
When should you see a doctor about a lump?
Most lumps are harmless and do not need any treatment. However, it is very important to see your GP if:
- The lump feels hard or firm.
- The lump is painful.
- The lump is getting bigger.
- The lump doesn't completely disappear within two weeks.
- You feel generally unwell with a high temperature (fever) or flu-like symptoms.
- You have recently lost weight without trying to diet.
- You have any other unexplained symptoms.
- The lump returns after it has been removed.