In female breast cancer, lumps are mainly found near the armpit. While In male breast cancer, lumps are mainly  found near the nipple. Some of the lumps in the breast are not cancerous, but it’s still very necessary to seek for medical attention if you find a lump.

Finding a breast lump should be a cause for concern, but it may help to know that most breast lumps aren’t cancerous.

In fact, around 80% of breast biopsies are benign and reveal that a person doesn’t have breast cancer.

For those who do have breast cancer, the most common location of the primary tumor is the upper outer quadrant of the breast. Of course, breast cancer can start anywhere there’s breast tissue.

Read on to learn more about where breast cancer lumps are found and what to do if you find one.

Language matters

We use “women” and “men” in this article to reflect the terms that have been historically used to gender people. However, your gender identity may not align with how your body may respond to breast cancer.

A doctor can better help you understand your individual risk for breast cancer and how to proceed if you develop a breast lump.

Where are breast cancer lumps most often located?

According to a 2017 study, research has repeatedly shown that the upper outer quadrant of the breast is the most common site of breast cancer occurrence. That would be the part of your breast nearest the armpit.

It may help to visualize each breast as a clock with the nipple at the center. Facing your right breast, the upper outer quadrant is in the 9:00 o’clock to 12:00 o’clock position. Facing your left breast, the upper outer quadrant is in the 12:00 o’clock to 3:00 o’clock position.

illustration showing the quadrants of the breasts, Where you can find Breast Cancer Lumps in the body

The reason more breast cancer lumps occur in the upper outer quadrant isn’t clear, but the area does have a lot of glandular tissue.

A 2019 study analyzed data on women who’d been diagnosed with breast cancer between 2010 and 2013. The researchers found that those with tumors located near the periphery of the breast (including the upper outer quadrant) had better outcomes than those with tumors located near the nipple.

More women than men get breast cancer, but everyone has some breast tissue, and anyone can get breast cancer.

Men usually only have small amounts of breast tissue in the area under or around the nipple. As a result, breast cancer lumps in men are usually located near the nipple.

The upper outer quadrant and the nipple aren’t the only places breast cancer can start, though.

Parts of the breast

The breasts are made up of connective tissue, glands, ducts, and fat.

Breast tissue takes up a large area. It covers the pectoral muscles and extends from the breastbone to the armpit and up to the collarbone.

In women, each breast has 15 to 20 lobes, or sections. Lobes are made up of lobules, and the glands that produce milk are located at the ends of lobules. Milk travels from the lobules to the nipple through the ducts. Men have fewer lobules and ducts.

All cancers start when cells begin to grow out of control, which can happen in any part of the breast.

Most breast cancers begin in the ducts. Cancer that begins in the ducts is also known as invasive ductal carcinoma.

Breast cancer can occur just under the skin or deep within the breast near the chest wall, where it’s difficult to feel.

Where are breast cysts usually located?

Cysts are fluid-filled lumps or bumps that can appear anywhere under the skin, including within the breast. In breast cysts, fluid fills the lobules.

Breast cysts are typically located in the upper outer quadrant or the central margins (in the middle, close to the nipple).

Breast cysts are usually benign and may not require treatment unless their size or presence bothers you. Simple cysts, which are only filled with fluid, do not increase your risk of developing breast cancer, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS).

What does a breast cancer lump feel like?

Breast cancer lumps have certain characteristics that may differentiate them from noncancerous lumps.

Keep in mind that these are generalizations. A lump is not something you should try to diagnose on your own. Doctors can’t always tell by touch alone, either.

Here are some signs that a breast lump may be cancerous:

  • It doesn’t hurt.
  • It’s firm or hard.
  • It’s bumpy.
  • It has irregular edges.
  • You can’t move it with your fingers.
  • It’s growing or changing.

Having one or more of these characteristics does not mean you have breast cancer.

Breast cancer lumps can sometimes present very differently. They can be soft, moveable, and painful. They can also occur anywhere on the chest or armpit.

Cancerous breast lumps are similar for people with female breast cancer and people with male breast cancer.

A breast lump is the most common symptom of breast cancer. However, breast cancer can also appear as an area of thickened tissue or skin rather than a distinguishable lump. Some types of breast cancer, such as inflammatory breast cancer, may not cause a lump at all.

Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveal that there are about 264,000 new cases of breast cancer among U.S. women each year and about 2,400 among U.S. men. Each year, about 42,000 women and 500 men in the United States die from the disease.

That’s why it’s important to have a doctor examine lumps that develop anywhere on your chest or underarm.

What does a noncancerous breast lump feel like?

Noncancerous, or benign, breast disease is more common among women than breast cancer.

There are many kinds of breast disorders, many of which present with a breast lump.

Here are some signs that a breast lump may not be cancerous:

  • It’s tender or it hurts.
  • It feels soft or rubbery.
  • It’s smooth and round.
  • You can easily move it using the pads of your fingers.
  • It’s getting smaller.

What to do if you feel a lump

Finding a breast lump can be upsetting, even if you know that most breast lumps aren’t cancerous. Because breast cancer is easier to treat before it spreads, it’s important to seek a diagnosis.

Here’s what to do if you feel a lump:

  • See a doctor: First things first, call a primary care medical professional or gynecologist if you have one. If you don’t have a doctor you see regularly, contact a doctor’s office or clinic in your area. Make it clear that you’ve found a lump in your breast and you need a clinical exam.
  • Keep in mind that a physical examination may not give you the answer: The doctor may also need to order a mammogram, an ultrasound, or an MRI. That doesn’t mean you have breast cancer.
  • Try to remain calm: Remind yourself there’s a good chance that the lump is benign. You’re being proactive and doing the right thing by having it checked out.
  • Follow up with the doctor’s office or clinic: Contact the doctor’s office or clinic to get your test results, understand what they mean, and find out what your next steps are.
  • Prioritize your own health: Be persistent and diligent — if you can’t get an appointment or your concerns aren’t fully addressed, seek out another doctor.

The takeaway

In women, breast cancer lumps are usually found in the upper outer quadrant of the breast. In men, they’re usually found near the nipple.

Regardless of gender, breast cancer can start anywhere there’s breast tissue, from the breastbone to the armpit to the collarbone.

Most breast lumps turn out to be something other than breast cancer. Even so, localized female breast cancer is highly treatable.

Based on data collected between 2012 and 2018, localized female breast cancer has an overall 5-year relative survival rate of 99.1%. This means that people with female breast cancer are almost as likely to live for another 5 years as people without female breast cancer.

You can help catch breast cancer before it spreads by familiarizing yourself with how your breasts normally look and feel. One way to do this, particularly if you have a higher-than-average breast cancer risk, is to perform a breast self-exam. If you discover a lump or notice other changes in the way your breasts look or feel, contact a doctor right away.

At your appointment, you should learn about recommendations for screening, your personal risk factors, and other breast cancer warning signs.

Frequently Asked Questions

Commonly developing from the mammary glands or ducts, such malignant lumps generally (about 50 percent) appear in the upper, outer quadrant of the breast, extending into the armpit, where tissue is thicker than elsewhere.
Often, an abnormal area turns up on a screening mammogram (X-ray of the breast), which leads to additional testing. In other cases, the first sign of breast cancer is a new lump or mass in the breast that you or your doctor can feel. A lump that is painless, hard, and has uneven edges is more likely to be cancer.
A breast lump that’s painless, hard, irregularly shaped and different from surrounding breast tissue might be breast cancer. Skin covering the lump may look red, dimpled or pitted like the skin of an orange. Your breast size and shape may change, or you may notice discharge from the nipple.
Sometimes breast lumps develop that are benign (noncancerous). Only 3% to 6% of breast lumps are due to breast cancer. 1 Self-exams each month may be helpful in identifying the lumps, but an exam done by a healthcare provider is needed to find out for sure what’s going on in your breast.
Size and tenderness may vary with the menstrual cycle. When lumps are tender, they are more likely benign, but about 10 percent of breast cancers do cause breast pain or tenderness. Cancers tend to feel much harder than benign cysts and fibroadenomas. Both benign and malignant masses can be rounded and mobile.
Breast cancer lumps tend to be immoveable. They’re usually hard, have irregular edges, and are painless. But that’s not always the case. Some breast cancer lumps are painful and they can sometimes be soft, round, or moveable.
Around 95 out of every 100 women (around 95%) survive their cancer for 1 year or more after diagnosis. Around 85 out of every 100 women (around 85%) will survive their cancer for 5 years or more after diagnosis. Around 75 out of every 100 women (around 75%) will survive their cancer for 10 years or more after diagnosis.
If you feel the same lumpiness in both breasts, or there isn’t one lump that’s firmer than the others, it’s most likely your normal breast tissue. That said, if you find a lump that feels harder, in only one breast, or one that just feels different than what you usually feel, address it with your doctor.
“A breast lump will feel like a distinct mass that’s noticeably more solid than the rest of your breast tissue. Lumps can range in size — from the size of a pea to larger than a golf ball — and may or may not be movable,” says Dr. Joshi.
A breast ultrasound is most often done to find out if a problem found by a mammogram or physical exam of the breast may be a cyst filled with fluid or a solid tumor. Breast ultrasound is not usually done to screen for breast cancer. This is because it may miss some early signs of cancer.
Some masses can be watched over time with regular mammograms or ultrasound to see if they change, but others may need to be checked with a biopsy. The size, shape, and margins (edges) of the mass can help the radiologist decide how likely it is to be cancer.
Bumps that are cancerous are typically large, hard, painless to the touch and appear spontaneously. The mass will grow in size steadily over the weeks and months. Cancerous lumps that can be felt from the outside of your body can appear in the breast, testicle, or neck, but also in the arms and legs.
A healthcare provider may use imaging tests such as mammograms, ultrasound, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to help make a diagnosis. Still, the only way to know for sure is to have a biopsy of the tissue at the lump site.
Fibroadenomas are solid, smooth, firm, noncancerous (benign) lumps that are most commonly found in women in their 20s and 30s. They are the most common benign lumps in women and can occur at any age. They are increasingly being seen in postmenopausal women who are taking hormone therapy.
A painless, hard mass that has irregular edges is more likely to be cancer, but breast cancers can be also soft, round, tender, or even painful. Other possible symptoms of breast cancer include: Swelling of all or part of a breast (even if no lump is felt) Skin dimpling (sometimes looking like an orange peel).
Make an appointment to have a breast lump evaluated, especially if: The lump feels firm or fixed. The lump doesn’t go away after four to six weeks. You notice skin changes on your breast, such as redness, crusting, dimpling or puckering.
If a tumor is cancerous, it will continue to grow and invade normal nearby tissue. If it isn’t treated, it can spread to other areas in the body. Most cancerous breast tumors first appear as single, hard lumps or thickening under the skin.
Breast cancer lumps can vary in size. Typically, a lump has to be about one centimeter (about the size of a large lima bean) before a person can feel it; however, it depends on where the lump arises in the breast, how big the breast is, and how deep the lesion is.
General breast lumpiness. The lumps may come and go and change size in just a few days. Generalized lumpiness was once thought to be abnormal and was even called fibrocystic breast disease, but it is so common that it is now considered normal.
A doctor may use an ultrasound to examine a cyst or tumor located deep within the body. Ultrasound imaging can often show whether a lump is hollow, fluid-filled, or a collection of cells. In some cases, a doctor may request a biopsy, which involves removing the lump or cells from it.
Tumour location within the breast varies with the highest frequency in the upper outer quadrant (UOQ) and lowest frequency in the lower inner quadrant (LIQ). Whether tumour location is prognostic is unclear.