Skip to Content

Do cancer lumps appear anywhere?

Cancerous lumps can potentially develop anywhere in the body. However, there are certain areas where lumps are more likely to be cancerous than others. The development of a concerning lump is often one of the first signs of cancer. Being aware of the common sites for cancerous lumps can help with early detection and treatment.

What is a cancerous lump?

A cancerous lump is an abnormal mass of tissue that forms due to the uncontrolled growth and division of cancer cells. As the cancer cells multiply, they form a tumor that can be felt through the skin or tissue. Lumps that are cancerous are typically hard, painless, fast-growing, and immobile. They persist and continue to increase in size over time.

Where do cancer lumps commonly develop?

Cancerous lumps can potentially occur anywhere, but there are certain parts of the body that are more prone. Some of the most common sites include:

  • Breast – Lumps in the breast or armpit area may indicate breast cancer.
  • Testicle – Testicular lumps may be a sign of testicular cancer.
  • Lymph nodes – Lumps in the lymph nodes in the neck, armpit, or groin can signal cancers like lymphoma or leukemia.
  • Skin – Melanoma and other skin cancers often first appear as lumps or moles on the skin.
  • Thyroid – Thyroid cancer can lead to nodules or lumps in the front of the neck.
  • Mouth – Oral cancer may cause lumps or growths in the mouth, tongue, or throat area.

Other possible lump locations linked to cancer include the abdomen, pelvis, head, spine, and extremities. Lumps can develop directly from the primary tumor or represent spread to lymph nodes.

What types of cancers cause lumps?

Many different types of cancer can lead to noticeable lumps or masses in the body. Some examples include:

Breast Cancer

The most common symptom of breast cancer is a new lump or mass in the breast or underarm area. Eighty percent of breast cancers are found when a lump is noticed upon self-examination or physical exam. The lump may be painless and hard with uneven edges.

Skin Cancer

Skin cancers like melanoma often first appear on the skin as a new spot or abnormal lump or growth. Basal cell carcinoma can also emerge as a lump or open sore that won’t heal. Squamous cell carcinoma may occur as a firm red nodule.


Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, cancers affecting the lymphatic system, commonly cause lumps in lymph nodes in the neck, underarm, stomach, or groin. Lymph node swellings are usually painless.


While leukemia causes symptoms like fatigue and weakness due to abnormal blood cell production, some leukemias can manifest as lymph node enlargement, representing cancerous white blood cells collecting in the lymph nodes.

Testicular Cancer

Testicular cancer often begins as a lump, enlargement, or swelling in a testicle. The lump is usually painless but may cause discomfort.

Oral Cancer

Lumps or growths in the mouth or throat can be a sign of oral cancer. Common sites include the tongue, floor of the mouth, gums, and other areas of the mouth and lips.

Thyroid Cancer

Many types of thyroid cancer present as nodules or lumps in the front of the neck. Most thyroid lumps are benign, but some may be cancerous. Large, rapidly growing, hard lumps have a higher chance of being malignant.

Are all lumps cancerous?

While finding a new lump can be scary, not all lumps are cancer. Here is an overview of cancerous vs. benign lumps:

Cancerous Lumps

Lumps that are cancerous tend to have the following characteristics:

  • Hard, firm consistency
  • Fixed in place, immobile
  • Rapid growth
  • Persistent, does not resolve spontaneously
  • May or may not be painful
  • Irregular shape and borders

Benign Lumps

Benign (noncancerous) lumps often have these features:

  • Soft, movable, and rubbery
  • Smooth, well-defined borders
  • Slow growing or remain unchanged
  • Can resolve on their own
  • Often fluctuate in size
  • May be painful or tender

Examples of common benign lumps include lipomas (fatty tumors), cysts, enlarged lymph nodes from infection, and fibroids in the breast or uterus. When a new lump appears, it is important to see a doctor to determine if it may be cancerous or benign.

Do lumps always mean cancer?

While the appearance of a new concerning lump is a potential cancer warning sign, not every lump turns out to be cancerous. According to the American Cancer Society, only about 1 out of 4 lumps are cancer. Many lumps result from benign breast conditions like cysts or fibrous tissue changes.

Here is an overview of how often lumps are diagnosed as cancer based on location:

  • Breast lumps – 75-80% are benign, 20-25% are cancerous
  • Thyroid nodules – 95% are benign, 5% are cancerous
  • Testicular lumps – Only about 20% are benign, 80% are cancerous
  • Lymph node lumps – Most result from infections, few are due to cancer
  • Skin lumps – Majority are benign, but new growths should be examined for skin cancer

In summary, while lumps have the potential to be cancerous, many turn out to be harmless after evaluation. But it is essential to have any new, persistent lump examined by a doctor.

Do cancer lumps appear suddenly or slowly over time?

The rate at which a cancerous lump develops and is detected can vary based on the location and specific cancer type:

Rapidly-appearing lumps

Some cancerous lumps can arise and grow very quickly over days to weeks. These include:

  • Testicular lumps – May rapidly enlarge over weeks
  • Lymph node lumps – Can grow quickly with cancers like lymphoma
  • Melanoma – Can arise rapidly and change quickly

Slowly-developing lumps

Other cancerous lumps emerge and grow slowly over months to years. Slowly developing lumps are more common. Examples include:

  • Breast cancer – May evolve over months before detected
  • Thyroid nodules – Often enlarge gradually over many years
  • Ovarian cancer – Typically progresses silently over months before symptoms appear

Factors like the specific cancer type, location, and individual characteristics impact the speed of lump development. Both rapidly emerging and slowly developing lumps can be cancerous. Any new or changing lump warrants prompt medical evaluation.

What are the chances a lump is cancer if it’s painless?

Many cancerous lumps are painless or only mildly uncomfortable when they first develop. However, the lack of pain does not mean a lump is necessarily benign. Here is an overview of painful vs. painless cancer lumps:

Painless cancer lumps

Many malignant lumps are painless or only mildly tender to the touch. Examples include:

  • Testicular cancer – Only 10% have pain initially
  • Breast cancer – 80-85% are not painful
  • Melanoma – Often painless at first
  • Enlarged lymph nodes with cancer – May be painless

Painful cancer lumps

Some cancerous lumps do cause pain, tenderness, or discomfort:

  • Bone cancer – Can cause localized bone pain
  • Mouth cancer – May be painful as it enlarges
  • Pancreatic cancer – Abdominal or back pain can radiate
  • Advanced cancers – Pain results from tissue damage

In general, around 70% of cancerous tumors are not initially painful. While benign lumps are often more painful due to inflammation, the absence of pain does not rule out cancer. Any new lump warrants prompt medical evaluation.

Can cancer lumps appear anywhere on the skin?

Cancerous lumps originating from the skin, like melanoma, can theoretically develop anywhere on the skin’s surface, though some areas are more prone. The most common locations for cancerous skin lumps include:


  • Chest and back (men)
  • Legs (women)
  • Neck and face
  • Arms
  • Groin

Basal cell carcinoma

  • Head, face and neck
  • Shoulders and back

Squamous cell carcinoma

  • Ears and scalp
  • Lips, mouth and nose
  • Hands, arms and legs

However, skin cancers can develop even in areas with minimal sun exposure, like the palms, beneath nails, or mouth and genitals. Any new lesions, lumps, or bumps on the skin warrant a prompt dermatology evaluation to assess for cancer.

Do cancer lumps move around?

In most cases, cancerous lumps and growths remain fixed in place and do not shift in location. Cancer masses are generally immobile for several reasons:

Anchored to one site

Cancer starts in one area as cells mutate and multiply out of control. The expanding cancer remains rooted to its original site.

Embedded in tissue

As the cancer lump grows within the breast, muscle, organs, or other sites, it remains implanted and immovable.

May invade tissue

Some aggressive cancers invade the surrounding tissue matrix, further anchoring the lump in position.

Advanced metastasis

Once a cancer spreads to distant lymph nodes and organs, these secondary metastases are stationary.


In rare cases, certain types of lumps can move around:

  • Lipomas – Benign fatty tumors under skin can be mobile
  • Sebaceous cysts – Can be moved around under skin
  • Testicular cancer – Lump may be movable within the testicle

However, cancers that start in the breast, lymph nodes, abdomen, pelvis, head, and other areas will generally be fixed rather than movable lumps. Any lump that is shifting locations likely has a benign cause.

Can cancer appear as a lump then disappear?

In most cases, an established cancerous lump will persist and continue to increase in size with time rather than disappearing. However, there are some exceptions where cancer may seem to resolve temporarily:

Cyclic changes

Breast cancer lumps may fluctuate in size before and during the menstrual cycle due to hormone changes.

Treatment response

Cancerous lumps often shrink initially with chemotherapy, radiation, or other treatments before potentially regrowing.


The primary breast, lung or other cancer lump may disappear after spreading to other organs.

Spontaneous regression

In extremely rare cases, cancers like melanoma may spontaneously shrink or resolve for unexplained reasons.


A lump incorrectly presumed to be cancer that naturally resolves may have been benign from the start.

Overall, while temporary changes in cancer lump size can occur, a complete and spontaneous disappearance is very uncommon. Any lump that resolves warrants continued follow-up and monitoring for recurrence.

What does it mean if a lump changes size?

An increase or decrease in the size of a lump can have several implications:

Enlarging lump

If a lump is progressively growing larger, concerning possibilities include:

  • Malignancy – Cancerous lumps often enlarge steadily
  • Infection – Can cause inflammatory lumps to expand in lymph nodes
  • Hematoma – Blood clot lump may expand before resolving

Shrinking lump

Possible reasons a lump may shrink or decrease include:

  • Infection resolving – Lymph nodes diminish after infection clears
  • Treatment response – Cancer lump may initially shrink with chemotherapy
  • Hematoma/cyst drainage – Lump resolves after draining blood or fluid

Fluctuating lump

Lumps that vary in size over time are often benign, such as with:

  • Fibrocystic breast changes – Swelling and lumpiness fluctuates
  • Hormone-related – Breast cancer lump changes with menstrual cycle

Any significant enlargement or reduction in an existing lump warrants medical reevaluation. Stable lump size may suggest a benign cause.

What does a cancerous lump feel like to touch?

The texture and physical qualities of a lump provide clues about whether it may be cancerous. Warning signs when touching a lump include:

Hard, firm consistency

Cancerous lumps tend to feel much harder and firmer than surrounding tissue due to the densely packed cancer cells. Benign lumps are often softer and more movable.

Fixed in place

Cancerous lumps are classically immobile and anchored rather than slidable under the skin. Benign lumps tend to be more movable.

Smooth or irregular edges

Cancerous lumps often have poorly defined, irregular borders compared to benign lumps with distinct smooth edges.

Growth progression

Touch during regular self-exams reveals if the lump is enlarging in diameter and volume over time, which can indicate cancer.

Doesn’t resolve

Cancerous lumps persist, while benign ones may fluctuate in size or resolve spontaneously over time.


Some benign lumps feel fluid-filled, while cancerous tissue has a solid consistency throughout.

Nodule texture

Thyroid cancers may feel gritty, hard, or calcified compared to benign nodules. Breast and other soft tissue cancers have a bumpy, thick texture.


In summary, cancerous lumps can arise in many locations, but often develop in high-risk areas like the breasts, lymph nodes, testicles, thyroid, skin, and mouth. Though many lumps ultimately prove to be benign, key warning signs of cancer include being hard, immobile, rapidly growing, and persistent over time. Any new or changing lump warrants prompt examination. Being aware of lump characteristics can help facilitate early cancer detection and treatment for the best prognosis.