I have a lump in my armpit – what do I do?

Armpit lumps are common and are usually caused by a swollen gland or lymph node. Lymph nodes are small, oval-shaped structures found in your body’s lymphatic system. They play a role in your immune system.

Armpit lumps could also be caused by cysts (a growth), an infection or irritation from shaving or antiperspirant use.

The most common causes of armpit lumps are:

  • Bacterial or viral infections
  • Fat tissue growths.
  • A fibroadenoma (noncancerous fibrous tissue growth)
  • Allergic reactions
  • Bad reactions to vaccinations
  • Fungal infections
  • Breast cancer
  • Lymphoma (cancer of the lymphatic system)
  • Leukaemia (cancer of the blood cells)

Symptoms

Although the obvious symptom is the armpit lump itself, the kind of lump could help you to find out the cause. The texture and size of the lump is good indicators.

For example, a cyst, infection or fatty growth may feel soft to the touch. Cancerous tumours or fibroadenomas may feel stiff. Painful lumps are usually caused by an allergic reaction or a lymph node infection. Besides the lump, infections commonly include other symptoms like a fever and night sweats.

For women, an armpit lump may mean breast cancer. Women should do monthly breast self-exams and tell their doctor about any lumps immediately. Clogging and inflammation of the glands under the armpit could also be the cause of lumps. These lumps are usually painful and boil-like lumps which may be filled with pus.

Diagnosing armpit lumps

As there are many possible causes for armpit lumps, your doctor will ask you questions. You’ll be asked about any changes in the lump and if you’re experiencing any pain in the area.
Your doctor will examine the lump to check the texture and lymph nodes in the area. If it isn’t harmful and will clear up, the diagnosis would end. If your doctor suspects it’s more serious, treatment will be given.

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Treatment

In most cases, armpit lumps don’t have to be treated and will disappear over time. Home remedies such as warm compresses and over-the-counter pain relievers may be advised to ease discomfort.

Treatment will depend on the underlying cause of the armpit lump. For allergies, medication is also prescribed, and you’ll need to avoid certain allergy triggers.

If the cause is a bacterial infection, your doctor may prescribe oral antibiotics to fight it. Within a few days, the armpit lump should start to disappear. In serious cases, if antibiotics don’t work, you may need to be hospitalised for treatment.

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