Mystery lump? Use our expert guide to banish fears
THE LOWDOWN 'In young, fit and healthy women, 80% of lumps are benign,' says Pixie. 'A fibroadenoma is a small harmless lump made from glandular tissue, which feels quite firm and moves around. The cause is unknown but they're common in 20- to 30-something women. Cysts, on the other hand, feel more jelly-like and tender and often affect women in their 30s and 40s.' They can appear almost overnight and may occur pre-menstrually when your breast tissue is lumpier.
HOW TO GET RID OF IT 'If a fibroadenoma isn't bothering you, your doctor may advise you to leave it,' says Pixie. 'It will probably stop growing after a couple of years and 10% clear up on their own. If it's painful, or the diagnosis is in doubt, your GP might suggest a minor operation to remove it. Cysts are usually confirmed by ultrasound if you're under 35, or a mammogram if you're older. A specialist can drain the fluid if it becomes uncomfortable.
WHEN TO INVESTIGATE Although breast cancer is generally pain-free and slowergrowing than a cyst or fibroadenoma, always get lumps checked. 'If you notice a change in the size, shape or feel of your breasts that's unusual for you, or you have some puckering, dimpling or redness of the skin, or nipple discharge, see your doctor. The same goes if you have pain and discomfort in just one breast,' advises Dr Jodie Moffat, health information manager at Cancer Research UK.
THE LOWDOWN It could be a regular sebaceous cyst (see 'A lump on your neck' overleaf ), but it could also be a Bartholin's cyst. 'The two Bartholin glands on either side of your lower vagina secrete lubricating fluid, which can create a cyst if the gland gets blocked,' explains says Dr Catti Moss from the Royal College of General Practitioners. 'This can become very painful if it gets infected, and if you've had one you're more likely to get another. Women aged between 20 and 30 who have never been pregnant are more at risk,' she adds.
HOW TO GET RID OF IT 'If it's small, your GP will monitor it over time. If it grows and becomes very painful you can have surgery to drain it,' says Catti.
WHEN TO INVESTIGATE 'Always get your GP to check vaginal lumps and bumps,' says Pixie. 'I've seen countless patients with undiagnosed genital warts, which are easily treated but very common. They can be itchy or irritating, and tend to grow on the opening of the vagina, the inner lips. There's a 50% chance you've contracted the virus by the time you're 26, so if you've had them before, be vigilant.'
THE LOWDOWN 'Skin tags are incredibly common,' says Pixie. 'They're perfectly harmless bits of skin that often grow in the creases of your body - such as your groin, neck, armpits, bra line, perineum and thighs. Or it could be that a hair has grown inwards after shaving or when the follicle is weakened by waxing. Curly hair around your bikini line is especially susceptible, and can cause the follicles to become red and infected (folliculitis),' she adds.
HOW TO GET RID OF IT 'Your GP can easily cut, freeze, or remove large skin tags with a local anaesthetic and a stitch, but they won't do you any harm and are safe to leave,' says Pixie. 'Folliculitis, on the other hand, often needs antibiotics. To prevent it, exfoliate before shaving, shave in the direction of your hair growth and use an antiseptic like tea tree lotion afterwards,' she suggests.
WHEN TO INVESTIGATE 'If a bump gets slowly and steadily bigger, is hard or rubbery, or bleeds, see your doctor,' says Catti. 'And if you have a painless swelling in your groin, armpit or neck that lasts for more than six weeks, also see your GP. It may just be your body fighting off a virus, but it's better to check.'
THE LOWDOWN 'Piles - also known as haemorrhoids - are essentially varicose veins and very common. You may feel a sore lump, or notice fresh, red blood on the toilet paper when you poo,' says Pixie. 'Constipation and straining are a common cause, and anal sex can increase your risk. Women tend to get haemorrhoids during pregnancy, too.'
HOW TO GET RID OF IT 'Your pharmacist can recommend creams or your GP can prescribe something stronger to shrink them,' says Pixie. 'If they're persistent, problematic or protruding your GP can refer you to a surgeon to get them removed.'
WHEN TO INVESTIGATE If the bumpiness or lump is hard, bleeding or growing slowly but steadily, see your GP.
THE LOWDOWN 'A dermatofibroma is a firm, non-cancerous lump found on the lower leg - it's very common. It's usually skincoloured, white or pinkish, and caused by a reaction to an insect bite or a thorn puncture - women get them four times more than men,' says Pixie. 'If your lump is softer and is on your leg, arm, belly, back or neck it's more likely to be a lipoma - also very common - which is a benign lump of fat. These can be as small as a pea or as large as peach, and can appear in clusters,' she says. 'They're caused when fat cells multiply faster than usual, and it's something that runs in families. Most lipomas feel softer and less defined, but some have a fibrous coating capsule, so are firmer and lumpier,' adds Catti.
HOW TO GET RID OF IT 'Your GP will leave dermatofibromas alone, unless the diagnosis is in doubt, as they're not dangerous and look less obvious over time. Removing them causes a scar,' says Catti. 'Lipomas don't need to be removed unless they grow very big or unsightly, and they're not dangerous either.'
WHEN TO INVESTIGATE 'Any lump that appears without reason, spots or sores that don't heal after four weeks, and any crusty lesions or irregular scaly patches of skin need to be checked by your doctor,' says Pixie. 'A kind of cancer called a squamous cell carcinoma often occurs on legs, arms, shoulders, face lips or ears, and starts as a protruding your GP can refer you to a surgeon to get them removed.'
THE LOWDOWN 'Ganglions are squelchy, usually painless cysts about the size of a grape to a small plum,' says Pixie. 'They're very common and are caused by a small weakness in the tough outer layer of your joints, which allows it to fill up with joint fluid. They're more likely to occur in overused joints such as wrists and fingers,' she says.
HOW TO GET RID OF IT Unless it's making life a misery, leave it alone. Most ganglions will get softer and flatter as time goes on, and may spontaneously disappear, or burst accidentally. If you're worried, your doctor can drain the fluid with a needle, but it's likely to return. 'The more permanent solution is surgery - 30 minutes under local anaesthetic - but even then they can still reappear,' says Pixie.
WHEN TO INVESTIGATE Ganglions really aren't anything to be concerned about as they won't become malignant.
You're scared it's... CANCER
It's probably... A SEBACEOUS CYST
THE LOWDOWN Your 20s and 30s are the peak time to get them. Most are oneoffs, when an oil gland gets blocked and the fat builds up, causing a painless lump between 1cm and 10cm across. 'Sebaceous cysts are the most common lumps I see,' says Pixie.
HOW TO GET RID OF IT 'Your doctor can remove it under local anaesthetic, but that's usually only done if it's huge, unsightly or prone to infection, as it leaves a scar that's bigger than the original lump,' says Pixie.
WHEN TO INVESTIGATE Sebaceous cysts don't become cancerous, but if you have a small red or pink pearly lump that in time starts to bleed or become crusty, see your doctor to rule out basal or squamous cell carcinoma.
You've got... A LARGE MOLE
You're scared it's... Melanoma
It's probably... Harmless - most moles remain benign for life
THE LOWDOWN 'There are two kinds of moles,' says Catti. 'Fleshy or flat. Lumpy, fleshy moles appear in childhood and grow with you. These can be brown or pale, rough or smooth, but are uniform in colour and texture and are not a cancer risk. Flat moles vary from overgrown freckles to large patches of darker skin, with varying pigmentation and blurry edges. Most people will have at least 20 of these.'
THE FIRST STEP 'If you have a suspicious mole your GP will probably refer you to a skin expert for a closer inspection,' says Catti. 'But rest assured, most turn out to be harmless.'
WHAT TO WATCH FOR 'Flat moles that start to slowly and gradually change are the ones to keep an eye on,' says Catti. 'Legs are a common site for skin cancers in women (42%), followed by arms (21%). You are more at risk if a close relative has had melanoma. Any lump that appears without reason, spots or sores that don't heal after four weeks, crusty lesions and irregular scaly patches all need to be checked.' Also, if a mole gets darker, becomes uneven in shape or the pigment starts to grow outwards, get it checked out - even if the changes occur over five to ten years. Safe moles should be symmetrical, have regular edges, an even colour, and be no bigger than the end of a pencil.
Posted: 05/11/2012 at 00:38
Posted: 04/12/2012 at 12:09
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