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Centers for Breast Health

Nodules and Masses

What are nodules or masses?

The terms nodule or mass are often used to mean the same thing, and refer to an abnormality seen on mammogram or ultrasound. When a mass or nodule is able to be felt, this is called a palpable mass or nodule. A common term for a palpable mass is lump.Normal breast tissue sometimes feels lumpy. Not all masses or nodules are able to be felt.

What causes nodules, masses or lumps?

If there is a defined area on mammogram or ultrasound that can be seen, it may be called a nodule or mass. Usually nodules or masses are benign, meaning that they are not cancer. Some are solid and some are fluid filled.

A mass or nodule can be caused by breast conditions such as breast cysts, fibrocystic changes, fibroadenomas (bening growth or tumor of the breast tissue) or breast cancer.

Ultrasound is used to determine if a nodule or mass contains fluid, called a breast cyst. Breast cysts are not harmful. Complex cysts can appear as solid masses, and sometimes require aspiration, or drawing the fluid off with a needle.

Solid masses generally require additional films or ultrasound. The Radiologist looks at the margins and shape of the mass to identify the possibility of cancer. If the mass appears to be benign, follow up imaging may be recommended. Sometimes a biopsy, or removal of the mass or a piece of tissue is necessary to determine if the cells contain cancer. Obtaining a biopsy and pathology result is the only sure way to know what caused the mass or lump.
If a biopsy is indicated, the result will be shared with you and the Radiologist will discuss the finding with your physician.