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Skin lumps

Skin lumps are any abnormal bumps or swellings on the skin.

Considerations

Most lumps and swellings are benign (not cancerous) and are harmless, especially the kind that feel soft and roll easily under the fingers (such as lipomas).

A lump or swelling that appears suddenly (over 24 to 48 hours) and is painful is usually caused by an injury or an infection.

Causes

Common causes of skin lumps include:

  • Lipomas, which are fatty lumps under the skin
  • Enlarged lymph glands, usually in the armpits, neck, and groin
  • Cyst, a closed sac in or under the skin that is lined with skin tissue and contains fluid or semisolid material
  • Benign skin growths such as seborrheic keratoses or neurofibromas
  • Boils, painful, red bumps usually involving an infected hair follicle
  • Corn or callus, caused by skin thickening in response to continued pressure (for example, from shoes) and usually occurring on a toe or foot
  • Warts, a skin virus that develops a rough, hard bump, usually appearing on a hand or foot and often with tiny black dots in the bump
  • Moles, skin-colored, tan, or brown bumps on the skin
  • Abscess, infected fluid trapped in a closed space from which it cannot escape
  • Cancer of the skin (colored or pigmented spot that bleeds easily, changes size or shape, or crusts and does not heal)

Home Care

Skin lumps from an injury can be treated with rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Most other lumps should be looked at by your health care provider before you try any home treatments.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your provider if there is any unexplained lump or swelling.

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

Your provider will perform a physical exam and ask about your symptoms, including:

  • Where is the lump?
  • When did you first notice it?
  • Is it painful or growing larger?
  • Is it bleeding or draining?
  • Is there more than one lump?
  • Is it painful?
  • What does the lump look like?
  • What other symptoms do you have?

Your provider may prescribe antibiotics if you have an infection. If cancer is suspected or the provider cannot make a diagnosis by looking at the lump, a biopsy may be done.

References

James WD, Berger TG, Elston DM. Dermal and subcutaneous tumors. In: James WD, Berger TG, Elston DM, eds. Andrews' Diseases of the Skin: Clinical Dermatology. 12th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 28.

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Update Date 4/14/2015

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