While we tend to think the worst when we find one, most lumps are not cause for concern.

Common Causes of Body Lumps

Lumps form on the body for many reasons, most of them harmless. While the major concern is that it could be a cancerous lump, it might also be a symptom of rheumatoid arthritis, tendonitis, or a swollen lymph node.

Lymph nodes

Lymph nodes are movable, pea-size lumps found throughout the body, but which are mostly found in the neck, groin, armpits, and behind the collarbone. Their role is to get rid of toxins and dead blood cells. When you have a cold or even a minor infection, your lymph nodes may swell because they’re being bombarded with dead cells. If the swollen gland persists or grows bigger than a pea, and stays that way for more than two weeks — or if you notice more swollen glands — it’s best to see your health care provider to have it checked.

Skin cysts

Cysts are noncancerous lumps filled with fluid, pus, or other material. They can appear anywhere and feel like small peas under the skin. Cysts can develop as a result of infection, clogged oil glands, or around foreign bodies, such as earrings. They are usually slow-growing, painless, and smooth to the touch when they are rolled under the skin. Some cysts disappear on their own without treatment. Others may need to be drained.

Other benign lumps

There are a few other reasons you may experience a lump on your body. A lump may be a symptom of a corn that is infected or inflamed, acne, or a recent injury or trauma to the skin or tissue.

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When Not to Worry

If you find a lump with the following characteristics, chances are good that it is not serious:

  • Soft to the touch.
  • Moves and changes form with touch.
  • Grows large and painful with activity and gets smaller with rest.

Common Causes of Lumps by Body Part

Lump on head

Lumps on the head are typically benign and are usually a result of an ingrown hair, folliculitis, or recent injury. Cancerous lumps will originate in areas of moist tissue, such as the throat or nose. If you experience consistent sore pain around the nose or throat, see your health care provider.

Lump on neck

A lump on the neck should be watched carefully. Your neck is home to your thyroid gland, which can form benign solid or fluid-filled lumps at the base of the neck near the collarbone. Most thyroid lumps are benign, but they can form rapidly so it is important to see your provider for regular examinations. Cancerous lumps are hard and painless. They might seem to appear overnight and grow with time. A cancerous lump may block your windpipe or create pressure in the throat or nose. See your provider immediately if you notice these kinds of symptoms.

Breast lumps

Many women find lumps in their breasts during self-examination. It’s natural to worry and think the worst because a lump or mass in the breast is the most common symptom of breast cancer. These lumps are often hard and painless, though some could be painful. Not all lumps are cancerous, though. There are a number of benign breast conditions — such as cysts — that can also cause lumps. It’s important to be aware of your body and to see your provider if you notice any changes in your breasts.

Lump under armpit

A lump occurring under the armpit may be a sign of hidradenitis suppurativa, which is a condition causing small painful lumps to form under the skin. These lumps typically occur in areas of friction like the armpit, buttocks, and groin. This condition begins with lumps that are pea-sized and painful. It can then develop into symptoms like blackheads or painful or leaking bumps, and eventually tunnels under the skin. See your provider if you are experiencing any of these symptoms.

Cancerous Lumps

Cancerous lumps have distinct characteristics and may affect different areas of the body. See your doctor if you:

  • Have a hard and painless lump.
  • Can feel a lump under the skin at the base of the neck.
  • Have difficulty sleeping.
  • Experience an irregular heart rate.

When to See Your Doctor

Call your health care provider if you find a lump and you also:

  • Experience sudden weight loss.
  • Have difficulty sleeping.
  • Feel pressure in the throat or nose.
  • Experience difficulty swallowing.
  • Have a pounding heart.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

About UPMC Hillman Cancer Center

When you are facing cancer, you need the best care possible. UPMC Hillman Cancer Center provides world-class cancer care, from diagnosis to treatment, to help you in your cancer battle. We are the only comprehensive cancer center in our region, as designated by the National Cancer Institute. We have more than 70 locations throughout Pennsylvania, Ohio, and New York, with more than 200 oncologists – making it easier for you to find world-class care close to home. Our internationally renowned research team is striving to find new advances in prevention, detection, and treatment. Most of all, we are here for you. Our patient-first approach aims to provide you and your loved ones the care and support you need. To find a provider near you, visit our website.