Celebrate Love For Every Family with PRUHealth FamLove!

Woman raising her arms
Health and Financial Wellness

How to know if that lump on your chest is breast cancer

Some women who are in the worst case of breast cancer or in the late-stage of disease and diagnosis, are caused by late detection which then results in low survival rates [1] These patients weren’t aware that the lump on their chest was a sign of cancer already.

Since many breast cancer symptoms aren’t noticeable without professional screening, it’s important to undergo early detection because it’s crucial in getting better treatment.

One of the most common and non-visible symptoms of breast cancer is lumps. However, not all lumps are cancerous and more than 80 percent of them end up being benign [2]. When breast cancer is detected early, there’s a 5-year relative survival rate of 99 percent [3]. Early detection consists of doing monthly self-exams, regular clinical breast exams, and mammograms.

Performing breast self-exams can be a useful way to find if you have a lump.

Here’s how you can do a breast self-exam [4]:

Step 1. With a mirror, look at your breast with your shoulders straight and your arms on your hips. Your breast should be their usual size, shape and color. There shouldn’t be any distortion or swelling. If you see any changes, consult your doctor as soon as possible.

Step 2. Raise your arms and look if there are changes. See if there’s any signs of fluid coming out of one or both nipples.

Step 3. While lying down, feel your left breast using your right hand, and use your left hand to feel your right breast. By using the first few finger pads of your hand, start gently pressing on your breasts with a circular motion, from top to bottom, side to side, from your collarbone to the top of your abdomen, and from your armpit to your cleavage.

Step 4. Lastly, while standing or sitting, raise your left arm straight upwards, stretch out and use your right hand to feel your left breast. Then, by using your first few finger pads, do the same circular motions described on step 3, and repeat the process on your right breast.

If you feel a lump, remember that more than 80 percent of them turn out to be benign or not cancerous. Usually, these can either be caused by normal hormonal changes or benign breast conditions or injuries. [5] However, it is still wise to consult your doctor to get your lumps checked.

Although there are other methods of detecting breast cancer, like mammographic examination, experts say self-examination is still the best method of detection for breast cancer. According to a study, women often detected breast cancers themselves, either by self-examination or by accident. The study also emphasized that despite the increased use of mammography in screening breast cancer, most breast cancers are detected by patients themselves [5].

Other methods of early detection

In breast evaluation, there are two types: screening evaluation and diagnostic evaluation.

Screening evaluation is for those who don’t have breast problems and is used to check for cancer in normal women while diagnostic evaluation is for those who already have a breast problem like a lump or abnormal nipple discharge. [6]

Here are the ways breast cancer is detected for both women and men:

Clinical breast exam (CBE). This method is a physical exam where your healthcare provider checks for breast problems or any abnormalities. This exam is divided into three components: inspection, palpation, and lymph node exam [7].

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, women between ages 29 and 39 should have CBE every 1 to 3 years while women after age 40 should have it every year. [6]

Mammogram. This is the most common imaging test or x-ray of your breasts. A mammogram can find cancer or other problems easily [4]. In fact, this method can show breast lumps up to 2 years before they can be felt [8].

There are two types of mammograms: screening and diagnostic. A diagnostic mammogram can help determine if there are symptoms present that are indicating presence of cancer. It also provides a more detailed x-ray of the breast compared to the screening mammogram [9].

Experts recommend women ages 50 to 72 to be screened every 2 years while women ages 45 to 54 should have a yearly screening [6].

Ultrasound. When your doctor finds something suspicious during your screening mammogram, sometimes they might request an ultrasound. A breast ultrasound is a diagnostic exam where it can detect if the lump found is a solid mass, a cyst, or a combination of the two. Cysts are not usually cancerous but solid lumps may be a sign of cancerous tumor [10].

MRI. Like the ultrasound, MRI is a diagnostic exam where it can get a more detailed image and perspective of your breasts. MRI can scan your breast tissues and make detailed pictures of areas in your breasts which can help if those tissues are normal or diseased [11].

Biopsy. This is the most common method to confirm if you have breast cancer. This is a test where breast tissues or fluids are extracted from the suspicious area and examined under a microscope to check for the presence of breast cancer [12].

Whether you or a loved one is at risk or worried of getting breast cancer, you should be aware of the ways you can get tested. Breast cancer can be found after symptoms appear while sometimes patients don’t have symptoms at all. This is why the sooner breast cancer gets detected, the easier it is to get the best available treatment.



  1. Rivera Franco M., Leon-Rodgriguez E., Delays in Breast Cancer Detection and Treatment in Developing Countries. US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. [Internet] 2018. [cited 30 September 2020] Available from:  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5802601/

  2. Burstein H. What Does a Breast Lump Feel Like? Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. [Internet] 2020. [cited 1 October 2020] Available from: https://blog.dana-farber.org/insight/2019/12/what-does-a-breast-cancer-lump-feel-like/

  3. American Cancer Society. Early Detection. National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc. [Internet] [cited 30 September 2020] Available from: https://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/early-detection-of-breast-cancer/

  4. Breast Self-Exam. BreastCancer.Org. [Internet]  [cited 30 September 2020] Available from: https://www.breastcancer.org/symptoms/testing/types/self_exam

  5. Roth M., Elmore J., Yi-Frazier J., Reisch L., Oster N., Miglioretti D. Self-Detection Remains a Key Method of Breast Cancer Detection for U.S. Women. Journal of Women’s Health. US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. [Internet] 2011. [cited 30 September 2020] Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3153870/

  6. Breast Health: 3-Step Plan for Preventive Care. John Hopkins Medicine. [Internet] [cited 30 September 2020] Available from: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/breast-health-preventive-care

  7. Introduction to Breast Exam. Stanford Medicine 25. [Internet] [cited 30 September 2020] Available from: https://stanfordmedicine25.stanford.edu/the25/BreastExam.html

  8. Breast Cancer Screening & Diagnosis: How Doctors Find It. WebMd. [Internet] [cited 30 September 2020] Available from: https://www.webmd.com/breast-cancer/breast-cancer-detection

  9. Diagnostic Mammogram. National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc. [Internet] [cited 30 September 2020] Available from: https://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/diagnostic-mammogram

  10. How Does An Ultrasound Help To Diagnose A Breast Lump? National Breast Cancer Foundation. [Internet] [cited 30 September 2020] Available from: https://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/breast-ultrasound

  11. How Does A Breast MRI Help To Diagnose Breast Cancer? National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc. [Internet] [cited 30 September 2020] Available from: https://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/breast-mri

  12. What Is A Breast Biopsy? National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc. [Internet] [cited 30 September 2020] Available from: https://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/breast-cancer-biopsy