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What does a tumor feel like?

My doctor recommended that I self-examine my breasts to feel for lumps or tumors. What will it feel like if I find something? Could I mistake something harmless for a tumor?
This is a really good question, because it points to exactly the difficulty with the self breast examination. Especially in younger women, it is very common for people to find small ropy or lumpy feeling masses in their breast, and these can be totally normal and harmless. For example, many women have something called fibrocystic changes, which are stringy, ropy consistency lumps in the breasts that wax and wane in prominence. Similar, young women often have rubbery lumps, particularly, in the outer half of the breast, called fibroadenomas that are totally benign and normal. A more concerning lump would be something that was hard and fixed in the breast or that grew steadily in size (although benign fibrocystic changes may sometimes be more prominent along with the menstrual cycle). The bottom line, therefore, is that if you go ahead and perform a self breast exam and find something, you shouldn't immediately start to worry. However, what you should do is get in to see your primary care doctor or your OB GYN doctor. They will be able to perform a breast exam to see if they can feel what you noticed. Based on what they find, they will either tell you that it is a normal finding (very likely) or they will recommend further testing.
This answer is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.
If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or (in the United States) 911 immediately. Always seek the advice of your doctor before starting or changing treatment. Medical professionals who provide responses to health-related questions are intended third party beneficiaries with certain rights under Zocdoc’s Terms of Service.

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