Feeling a lump in your breast can lead to a full-blown freak out. But there are a number of non-cancerous reasons why your boobs might be bumpy. "It’s not just about breast cancer," says Sherry Ross, M.D., ob-gyn, women's health expert at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, and author of the forthcoming book She-ology. “Getting to know your breast tissue and being familiar with what is normal for you will help you know when something is abnormal." Here are five culprits to keep an eye out for:
1. You have dense breasts.
A little anatomy lesson: Breasts are made up a combination of fatty tissue and connective tissue. Women with denser breasts have more of the connective tissue and less fatty tissue. While breast density is really about how a breast appears on a mammogram, "some young women have dense breasts that can feel lumpy," explains Parvin F. Peddi, M.D., of the UCLA division of hematology and oncology. According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, two-thirds of pre-menopausal and one-quarter of post-menopausal women have dense breast tissue. On a traditional mammogram, this can be very difficult to tell apart from cancer, making detection trickier. "What's important is to know whether a lump is new or old or whether it's changing," says Peddi. "A regular breast self-examination is best so a woman can get a sense of what her individual breasts feel like."
>> Read more: How Your Boobs Change in Your 20s, 30s and 40s
2. You have non-cancerous tumors.
One of the most common breast lump culprits is fibroadenoma, says Ross. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), fibroadenoma are benign (a.k.a. non-cancerous) tumors made up of both glandular and connective breast tissue that are most common in women in their twenties and thirties. While fibroadenoma can vary in size—from microscopic to as big as an apricot—often times they are described as feeling firm, smooth, or rubbery and having a well-defined shaped, like a marble, says Ross. While they are harmless, if you have multiple fibroadenomas or they continue to grow in size, they may begin to impact the look and shape of your breasts and your doctor may recommend removing them.
3. You have cysts.
Changes in the breast tissue caused by fibrosis and/or cysts are common and benign. "Fibrocystic breast changes affect about 60 percent of women," says Ross. "A lot of times you’ll notice them where an underwire bra would hit." Fibrosis is the name for a dense collection of fibrous tissue, the same kind of tissue that ligaments and scar tissue are made of. Areas of fibrosis may feel rubbery, firm, or hard to the touch. Meanwhile, cysts are round, movable, fluid-filled lumps most common in women in their forties. While both may get larger and more tender near your menstrual cycle, they aren’t caused by it. "These can get worse on your period and then improve, but they don’t go away," says Ross. "We can still see them on an ultrasound." Luckily, they are benign and can be improved by limiting your intake of caffeine and nicotine—common triggers that aggravate them, making them even more pronounced.
To find out other reasons your breasts could be lumpy, click here!