Armpit Lump: The Basics

OVERVIEW ARMPIT LUMP

Lymph nodes are found in various parts of the body. They are small-sized, oval masses that are found in the lymphatic system in the body and they play a great role in immunity. An armpit lump occurs when one or more of the lymph nodes in the armpit are swollen and palpable. An armpit lump may be seen if it is large enough, other times, it may just be felt on palpation. An armpit lump can be caused by regular activities such as discomfort following the use of antiperspirant or shaving, it can also be caused by cysts. Not all armpit lumps are harmless as some may depict a serious health issue thus it is advised to seek medical consultation if you have an armpit lump that progressively increases in size, painful or painless or that which is persistent.

Armpit lump
Photo Credit: Buoy Health

CAUSES OF ARMPIT LUMPS

As earlier discussed, an armpit lump may just be due to an abnormality in tissue growth but some are indicative of a serious health problem. See a doctor to examine and evaluate the lumps if you have it.

The frequent causes of armpit lumps include:

  • Infections caused by bacteria or viruses
  • Lipoma, a fat tissue growth that is not cancerous and is mostly harmless
  • Fiboadenoma, a fibrous tissue growth that is noncancerous
  • Hidradenitis suppurativa
  • Allergies
  • Adverse effect following vaccination
  • Fungal infections
  • Breast cancer
  • Lymphoma, cancer occurring in the lymphatic system
  • Leukaemia, cancer of the white blood cells
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus, an autoimmune disease that affects the joints and organs

ARMPIT LUMPS IN WOMEN

Armpit lumps can occur in both sexes and all age groups. A lump under the breast in a woman is highly suggestive of breast cancer especially if it is in the older age group.  A monthly breast self-exams should be performed by all women just after their menstrual flow and any abnormality such as a breast lump should be communicated to a doctor immediately.

Always remember that the female breast goes through hormonal changes when she is menstruating and it may become painful or lumpy but this is seen as being normal. Breast selfexamination is best performed from one to three days after the menstrual flow ends as this is when the results are most accurate.

Armpit lump in women can also be caused by hidradenitis suppurativa and this kind is associated with lymph node enlargement not only in the armpit region but also in the groin area. It is a condition that develops gradually over time and causes the sweat glands of the hair follicles in the skin to become clogged, raised, painful and red. The resultant is a lump that is painful, contains pus, has a punctum where it discharges and may subsequently become infected.

Tobacco smoking, obesity, and family history are the likely risk factors for developing the condition. Even though the specific cause of hidradenitis suppurativa isn’t known, the implicated factors are the hormonal changes seen during puberty or the immune system putting up a rather stronger reaction from the clogged and irritated hair follicles. Hidradenitis suppurativa is not exclusive to women as men can also come down with it but it is more common in women.

DIAGNOSING ARMPIT LUMPS

The first thing to do in order to diagnose an armpit lump is to conduct a meticulous physical examination. The doctor will seek to know any changes that have occurred in the lump such as a change in size or color, and if you experience any sort of pain in the area.

After inspecting the lump, the next step is palpation where the lump is felt to check for things like tenderness, temperature difference, consistency, and texture. This can only be achieved by the hands and the doctor moves his or her hands slowly to feel for the lymph nodes and neighboring tissues.

It is possible to know from a physical examination if the lump is harmful or harmless. Non-malignant lumps such as lipomas do not usually need extra treatment. When a lump becomes problematic, such as the development of symptoms, a doctor can advise on the possible treatment options to get rid of it.

Following the result of the physical examination, the doctor may send for other tests that screen for infection, cancerous change, and an allergy. A combination of the following tests may be done to affirm a diagnosis:

  • A full blood count: this is conducted to determine the count of red blood cells, platelets, and white blood cells in the body.
  • X-ray of the breast (mammography): this enhances better visualization of the lump.
  • MRI or CT scan imaging
  • Biopsy: this has to do with the removal of a strip of tissue from the lump or the removal of a whole lump for testing.
  • Testing for allergies
  • Microbiological culture of the fluid aspirated from the lump to rule out infection

TREATMENT OF ARMPIT LUMPS

The treatment option advised will depend on the specific cause of the lump. Lumps that are caused by bacterial infections can be treated with oral doses of antibiotics. The armpit lump should begin to fade as the infection is fought both by the body and by the antibiotic. If the lump is unresponsive to oral doses of antibiotics, hospitalization is required so that you can receive intravenous (IV) antibiotics.

Lumps caused by allergies usually resolve when medication is started and one should also learn to avoid conditions that trigger the allergic episode.

Most times, armpit lump do not need treatment but just careful observation to watch out for any changes. If this is the situation of your lump, you may need to find ways to alleviate any discomfort experienced by making use of home remedies such as warm compresses. Using over-the-counter medications can also help to make the pain subside. Example of lumps that do not require treatment include:

  • Lumps due to  lipomas
  • Lumps due to viral infections
  • Lumps arising in non-cancerous breast conditions such as fibroadenoma

Hidradenitis suppurativa treatment modalities include:

  • Pharmacological therapy using drugs
  • Biological therapy
  • Wound dressings
  • Bleach bath
  • Anti-acne therapy
  • Surgical treatment
  • Lifestyle modification

When the armpit lumps are due to a cancerous cause, referral to a specialist will be instituted by the doctor. The treatment received at the specialist centre will be based on the type of cancer and the stage of cancer and the modalities of treatment then will be either one or a combination of the following:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiotherapy
  • Surgery

OUTLOOK FOR ARMPIT LUMPS

This depends on the cause. A lump that arose from a viral infection (are mostly self-limiting infections) will finally fade on its own but a lipoma which is actually harmless is usually persistent and does not resolve on its own. It may require a removal by a dermatologist or surgeon.

For cancerous armpit lumps, the outlook varies based on the stage of cancer and if there has been a cancerous spread to other body parts. Early diagnosis and treatment guarantees the best recovery chance so it is paramount to go to your doctor very early to get the lump diagnosed and treated.

Even if you do not think that the lump is harmful, it is better to get an expert opinion about the lump from a doctor and also an accurate diagnosis will be given to you. 

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