What is a Lump in the Armpit?
A lump in the armpit is a condition where there is enlargement of one or more of the lymph nodes present under the arm. Lymph nodes are glands, which are small in size and oval in shape. They are located all throughout the body. They play an important role in the body's immune system. Enlargement of these lymph nodes leads to formation of lumps. In some cases, these lumps in the armpit can feel small and in some cases, they may be very obvious. Lumps in the armpits can occur due to infection (bacterial or viral), cysts or irritation occurring from using antiperspirants or shaving. The armpit lumps can also be caused by allergies, harmless tissue or fat growths. Lumps in the armpit should not be ignored as they can indicate a serious underlying medical condition, such as cancerous growths.
This is the reason many people, particularly women, get worried when they feel a lump in the armpit. Medical attention should be sought upon feeling an armpit lump, especially if it is gradually increasing in size and is painful. A physical examination will be conducted along with a biopsy to determine the cause of the armpit lump.
Causes of Lump in the Armpit
In most of the cases, any lumps in the body are harmless and occur as a result of abnormal growth of the tissue. However, the lumps in the armpit can indicate a serious medical problem. For this reason they should never be ignored and should be evaluated by a doctor. Some of the common causes of lump in the armpit include:
- Infections, which can be either viral or bacterial.
- Lipomas, which are harmless growths of fat tissue.
- Adverse reactions to vaccinations.
- Allergic reactions.
- Fungal infections.
- Fibroadenoma, which is a noncancerous growth of fibrous tissue.
- Response to breast cancer.
- Leukemia, which is the blood cancer in the bone marrow.
- Lymphoma, which is the cancer of the lymphatic system.
- Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), which is an autoimmune disorder which affects the joints and organs.
Lumps in the Armpit in Women
Lumps in the armpit can occur in both men and women and of all ages. However, a lump occurring under the arm can be an indication of breast cancer. This is why women especially need to perform monthly breast self-exams and the best time for which is after the menstrual cycle ends. If lumps are felt, then immediately seek medical attention. It is important to bear in mind that due to hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle, changes can be felt in the breasts and they can feel lumpy or tender during this time, which is completely normal. For accurate observation, it is recommended to perform breast self-examinations around one to three days after the period ends.
Investigations to Diagnose Lump in the Armpit
A physical examination is conducted first. The doctor will ask questions such as if there are any changes in the lump or if any pain is experienced. The doctor gently palpates the lump to determine its texture and consistency. In some cases, a physical exam is sufficient to prove that the lump is harmless; such as lipomas, which are benign lumps do not require any additional treatment. If the lump is bothersome, then the doctor can provide treatment options for removing it.
So, after the physical examination is done, the doctor will do further testing if needed to exclude allergic reaction, infection or cancer. A combination of the following diagnostic tests can be ordered:
- Complete blood count (CBC) for measuring the red and white blood cells.
- X-ray of the chest or breast (mammogram) is done to better visualize the lump.
- Biopsy is a test where a small piece of tissue of the lump is removed and sent for testing.
- Allergy testing.
Treatment for Lump in the Armpit
- Treatment of the lump in the armpit depends on the underlying cause of the lump.
- Antibiotics are prescribed if the cause of armpit lump is found to be bacterial infections. As the infection subsides, so the does the armpit lump.
- If allergies are the cause behind the armpit lump then medications for allergy are prescribed and the patient should also learn to indentify and avoid the allergy triggers.
- Home remedies, such as over-the-counter pain relievers or warm compresses can be used to alleviate any pain and discomfort associated with lump in the armpit.
- Treatment is not required if the armpit lump occur as a result of viral infection or lipomas.
- If the cause of the lump in the armpit is found to be cancerous, then the patient is referred to an oncologist for further care. Treatment depends on the cancer type and stage of the cancer and commonly involves chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery.
Prognosis of the Lump in the Armpit
Prognosis for the lump in the armpit or armpit lump depends on the cause. Prognosis is good if the lump occurs as a result of a viral infection, as it will gradually disappear on its own. If the lump is a lipoma, then though it will be harmless it stays permanent.
The prognosis for armpit lump due to cancer depends on different factors, such as the type of the cancer, stage of the cancer and if the cancer has metastasized, i.e. spread to other organs or parts of the body. Prognosis also depends on timely diagnosis. So, it is better to always consult your doctor even if the lump appears harmless.