When Should Women With Armpit Lumps See a Doctor?
The main reason to call a doctor is when an armpit lump appears for no apparent reason. Lymph nodes in the armpit fill with fluid as an immune system response. Recent illnesses such as a cold may not show a cause for alarm. If a woman recently shaved that area and a lump appeared, shaving the sensitive area may have irritated the armpit. Body fat, vaccinations and medications could also cause armpit lumps.
Body-wide infections such as HIV, mononucleosis and herpes may cause swollen armpit lymph nodes and require a doctor's attention. Doctors cannot ascertain a cancerous lump from a cursory inspection on the outside. Aspects to watch out for include a hard, immovable lump that is not tender, any bump in the armpit area that persists for more than a few weeks or a growth that appears to enlarge rapidly.
Swollen lymph nodes usually dissipate within three weeks after an infection subsides. If you get a cold, any swollen armpit lumps should go away on their own without any extra help. This process occurs naturally as the body fights an infection. Swollen lymph nodes usually feel soft, rubbery, movable and sometimes tender. Normally, lymph nodes cannot be felt under the skin.
What to Expect at the Doctor's Office
When you see a doctor for an office visit, your physician starts with an overall examination. Then, the doctor may gently press on the lymph nodes before asking you several questions to ascertain the next steps. When did you first notice the lump? This gives the doctor a time frame. Has the lump changed? In other words, has it gotten bigger or smaller? Are you breastfeeding? Does anything make the lump worse? Do you feel pain associated with the lump, such as when you touch it? Do you have any other symptoms?
Your doctor may order more tests based on your answers to these questions. Other tests may use special imaging of the area to detect any abnormalities.
An armpit lump in women may come from an infection, shaving, antiperspirants or normal breast material that extends into the armpit area. However, some armpit lumps in women could indicate breast cancer and should be checked by a doctor immediately.
Women should perform monthly breast examinations to check for abnormal lumps in the breast tissue and armpits. Discuss any abnormal symptoms with your primary care physician if you feel an abnormal armpit lump with no known reason. Not all armpit lumps denote a serious problem, but if you feel the lump is a cause for concern, err on the side of caution and call a doctor as soon as possible.