Armpit Lump – An Issue Of Concern, Or Merely A Lump?

An armpit lump goes by several different names, including an axillary lymph enlargement and an axillary abscess - (axilla is the medical term for the armpit). A lump is a lump by whatever name however, and if one appears in the armpit area it shouldn't be ignored. In most cases a lump in the armpit is benign and therefore harmless. A lump can result from any number of causes. More often than not it is symptomatic of a lymph node either doing what lymph nodes do, but in excess, or the node has become infected.  In either case the lump will usually go away in a short time. There are several hundred lymph nodes located throughout the human body. Those most apt to be subject to swelling, and are the most noticeable should swelling occur, are those located in the neck, in the groin, and in the armpits.

The chance a lump indicates a serious problem exists is unlikely, but there is always the possibility that the lump is actually a tumor, especially if the lump does not go away reasonably quickly or appears to be growing. In any event it's always better to be safe than sorry. If the lump is the result of a malignancy, the condition will be more easily cured if caught early.

The Immune System At Work

The lymph nodes in our body are a part of the lymphatic system, which in turn is a part of the body's immune system. These lymph nodes serve a very useful purpose, as they act as filters that trap any harmful organisms that are present in the body. Sometimes these organisms are effectively disposed of. At other times the lymph node itself may either become infected or become a host to cancerous cells. Infections under the skin that do not involve a lymph node can also create a lump when an abscess forms under the skin's surface. A lump may at times be what is referred to as a lipoma. Lipomas are accumulations of fatty tissue under the skin which our bodies create from time to time, seemingly for no particular reason. Lipomas may at times become a cosmetic issue, but other than that they are generally harmless. Lipomas are usually quite soft, an indication that they do not present a danger. A lump that is hard or is painful to the touch should always be brought to the attention of a medical practitioner. Just because a lump is painful does not always mean a dangerous situation exists however. Common causes of painful armpit lumps are ingrown hairs and infected hair follicles. Of greater concern is when a lump is symptomatic of an immune system disease.

Expanded Breast Tissue

An armpit lump can also be nothing more than normal breast tissue that has either become displaced or has expanded beyond the main part of the breast. This condition is not as abnormal as it sounds. It sometimes occurs in women during the latter stages of pregnancy, and during breastfeeding. Normal breast tissue is not strictly confined to the breast and may expand or grow outside of the breast itself due to the formation of milk glands. The resulting lumps can be quite frightening to a woman who has never experienced them, but they are quite harmless, and usually disappear once the infant is weaned from breastfeeding.

Probably the most worrisome thing about an underarm or armpit lump is the possibility it might be an indicator of the presence of breast cancer. Women are encouraged to undertake a periodic breast self-examination (BSE) with the objective of detecting changes in the breast or underarm area, and to supplement the BSE with clinical exams every few years. An armpit lump may not always be noticeable, and often will only be detected during a BSE procedure. As a rule of thumb, if a lump is detected and has not gone away within 2 weeks, or is hard and sensitive to the touch, it should be brought to the attention of a physician.

It's Always Better To Be Safe Than Sorry

What's the bottom line? An armpit lump is in almost all cases an abnormality. It may be a harmless abnormality, and in most instances it is. In any event, a lump is something that normally should not be there. If it doesn't go away within a few weeks it would be best to have it looked into. If it appears to be growing rapidly and is painful, it should definitely be looked into, although the most likely diagnosis will be that there is an infection rather than a malignancy. If it is hard to the touch, rather than soft and squishy, or pliable, it should definitely be looked into. At the very least, when something abnormal is happening to our body, such as a lump, it should never be completely ignored, and any abnormal condition should be monitored to see if changes occur over time. If the lump has recently formed, together with symptoms which suggest possible illness, it would be best to visit a doctor, as an immune system disease or disorder may be at the root of the problem.