January 10, 2024
January 10, 2024

When to Worry About a Lump Under the Skin

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When to Worry About a Lump Under the Skin

Most of us have experienced it — a sudden, unexpected lump under our skin that sends our mind into overdrive with worries and what-ifs. But rest assured, not every lump is cause for concern. Many skin lumps are benign and can be easily managed or will disappear on their own.

Here, we’ll review what these lumps might be and when to worry about a lump under the skin. We’ll also offer guidance on when to seek professional help, potential signs of cancer, and what you can do to assess your risks proactively.

What Are the Most Common Types of Lumps Under the Skin?

Benign tumors are the most common types of lumps under the skin. They’re usually soft and mobile, meaning the lump moves or changes form when you touch it. Skin lumps come in various shapes, sizes, and types. Here are some of the most common noncancerous (benign) skin conditions.


When you’re trying to distinguish between cysts vs. tumors, it helps to understand that cysts are fluid-filled sacs that can show up anywhere on the body. They usually feel smooth and can be moved slightly when touched. A cyst is typically slow-growing and features a sac-like pocket of tissue that may contain pus, fluid, air, or skin cells. It's typically uniform, smooth, and painless until it grows significantly.

If a cyst causes pain, impairs movement, or if you're concerned about its appearance, consult a healthcare provider. Treatment options may include needle aspiration (fluid removal) or surgical excision. 

Some common types of cysts you may encounter include:

  • Ganglion cysts are non-cancerous, fluid-filled lumps that often form near joints and tendons. They are most commonly found in the wrist and hand. They’re usually painless unless pressing on nearby nerves and their location may interfere with joint function. 
  • Epidermoid cysts, or epidermal cysts, are not usually cancerous and form beneath the outermost layer of skin. Over time, skin accumulates, forming a cyst filled with a thick, yellowish keratin material.


These are usually benign skin growths that often appear on the legs. They may vary in color and texture. While dermatofibromas are usually harmless, they can be itchy or painful in some cases. If you notice changes in the appearance or size of a dermatofibroma, or if it becomes painful or bothersome, it's a good idea to consult a dermatologist for evaluation.


A lipoma is a benign growth of fatty tissue that develops beneath the skin, presenting as a soft, rubbery lump that can be easily moved with slight finger pressure. These non-cancerous lumps often appear on the shoulders, neck, back, or arms. While they typically remain small, some can grow noticeably larger over time. Despite their presence, lipomas usually don't require treatment unless they become painful, restrict movement, or cause other discomfort due to their size or location.


Moles are common skin growths characterized by small, colored spots that can vary greatly in appearance. They can be flattened or raised and may feel smooth or rough. Some may even have hair growing from them. The color of moles can range from pink or flesh tones to dark brown or black. While some moles are harmless, moles that change in size, color, shape, or texture could indicate skin cancer and thus warrant medical attention.


Nearly all warts are caused by various strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV). There are more than 100 different types of HPV, and different strains are responsible for different types of warts. Warts can cause a range of external symptoms, such as a lump on top of the skin, changes in skin texture, to a flattened wart that may sometimes feel like a lump underneath the skin.

While most warts are benign and harmless, some strains of HPV are linked to a higher risk of certain cancers. Anal cancer symptoms may manifest as a hard knot in the anal canal and vulvar cancer can feel like a hard lump in the genital area. 

It’s also worth noting that inflammation from conditions like arthritis or lupus can lead to nodules under the skin and that hematomas (collections of blood outside of blood vessels) can occur after an injury.

When to Worry About a Lump Under the Skin: Symptoms That Require Immediate Attention

When to worry about a lump under skin: dermatologist holding an artificial model of the human skin with hair

It’s worth worrying about a lump under the skin when it becomes infected. A skin abscess is a bacterial infection that starts when bacteria on the skin enter a wound or break in the skin. It can develop from something as simple as an ingrown hair (infected hair follicle) or even a splinter.  

Delaying care for a skin infection or abscess can lead to serious consequences. As the abscess develops it will cause pain, swelling, and redness. A ruptured abscess can release pus that may cause further infection. In severe cases, the infection can spread to other parts of the body, including the blood, all of which can be life-threatening. 

Furthermore, when you delay care, the treatment may require a surgical procedure to drain the abscess, risking scarring. In some cases, IV antibiotics are necessary to eliminate the infection.

Signs of infection or abscess include:

  • Pain, tenderness, or inflammation around the lump
  • A lump that feels warm to the touch
  • Swelling and tenderness around the lump
  • Increased body temperature (fever)

How Can You Recognize Cancerous Lumps Under the Skin?

Patients often wonder when to worry about a lump under the skin when they’re concerned that a lesion is precancerous or cancerous. Also known as malignant tumors, cancerous tumors of the skin have distinct characteristics that differentiate them from benign lesions.

For example: 

  • Cancer tumors often feel hard and immovable like they are anchored to your bone
  • They're usually irregularly shaped, unlike many benign lumps, which are usually round and smooth
  • Some cancerous lumps may be painless, while others can cause discomfort or pain
  • Cancer tumors may grow or change in size or shape over time
  • Sometimes surface lesions change in color
  • Cancer lesions often appear as sores that don't heal

When to Worry About a Lump Under the Skin in These Locations

Lumps under the skin can occur in various locations on the body, and while many of them are benign, some may be cause for concern. Here's when to worry about lumps in specific areas.

Breast lump

Any lump in the breast should be taken seriously. In particular, you should be concerned if you notice a breast lump that feels like:

  • Hard or irregular
  • Does not go away after your menstrual cycle (if applicable)
  • Skin overlying the lump that changes such as redness or dimpling
  • Nipple inversion
  • Pain or discomfort in the same area of the breast that doesn't resolve

Consult a healthcare provider for a clinical breast examination and possible imaging tests like mammograms or ultrasounds to rule out breast cancer.

Testicles (Scrotum)

Lumps in the testicles can have various causes. You should be concerned if you notice signs that are common in testicular cancer.

  • A hard or irregular lump within the testicle
  • Pain or discomfort in the testicle
  • Changes in the size, shape, or weight of the testicle
  • Enlarged veins (varicoceles) or fluid-filled sacs (hydroceles) within the scrotum
  • Any new or unusual testicular lumps should be evaluated by a healthcare provider to rule out testicular cancer

Lump Under the Skin vs. Swollen Lymph Nodes

When to worry about a lump under skin: doctor examining a patient's neck

Lymph nodes are part of the body's immune system and can become enlarged or swollen in response to various triggers, including infections, inflammation, and medical conditions with different causes. Enlarged lymph nodes may feel like small, bean-shaped structures underneath the skin. 

Lymph nodes in the neck, armpits, and groin are more commonly felt, but they can also occur in other parts of the body. Many cases of swollen lymph nodes are due to benign factors like viral infections but can also be associated with more severe conditions like lymphoma or even symptoms of metastatic breast cancer. 

If you are wondering when to worry about a lump under the skin related to swollen lymph nodes, please see a healthcare professional for evaluation. Early detection and proper management give you the best chance for the best outcomes.

Testing and Diagnosis for Lumps Under the Skin

If your doctor suspects your symptoms are concerning, they may recommend a biopsy to figure out the cause. Biopsies involve taking a small piece of tissue from the lump and examining it under a microscope. Your doctor might also recommend less invasive diagnostic testing such as a pap test or a diagnostic imaging exam. 

Diagnostic imaging differs from screening MRIs like the Ezra Scan and Ezra mammogram. Screening imaging, such as a yearly mammogram, is a routine exam. Diagnostic imaging is more detailed and is used to investigate a problem and potentially follow up with a biopsy or treatment.

Assess Your Risk Factors Now

When to worry about a lump under skin: woman using a tablet

Diagnosis requires medical expertise, but there are some signs that might indicate what it could be. Cancer warning signs include a lump with irregular boundaries, changes in appearance, or a feeling that it’s “stuck” to the tissue or bone and doesn’t move when you touch it.

As we’ve discussed, benign (noncancerous) lumps often have specific characteristics such as movement, roundness, symmetry, and smooth texture. An infection might include a reddened lump that may be warm to the touch, and potentially accompanied by a fever. However, for peace of mind and optimal health, it's always best to seek medical advice about a new lump.

Consider taking Ezra's risk factor quiz to evaluate risk factors and make informed health decisions. By understanding your personal risk profile, you can take steps to maintain your well-being and potentially prevent future health concerns.

Early detection is key in health management and MRI scans are especially adept at identifying soft tissue abnormalities at their initial stages—often before any symptoms are noticeable. This early insight is essential for timely diagnosis and treatment. 

Take this opportunity to prioritize your health and avoid potential problems with an Ezra Full Body MRI that examines up to 13 organs and body parts simultaneously.