Health of the armpit: Arm pit lumps

I know a lady who many years ago presented with armpit lumps and was advised to have her breasts removed because the lumps were a sign of breast cancer. She loved her breasts so much that she opted to keep the breasts and pray away the cancer. (Possibly her husband influenced this decision).  Many years later, the arm pit lumps remained but she did not have breast cancer and her husband was a happy man.

Now arm pit lumps can be a sign of breast cancer therefore if a woman has such lumps she should have a thorough medical examination by a doctor and seek the advice of her health care providers.  Both men and women may have arm pit lumps but breast cancer is very rare in men.

Some arm pit lumps may not be disturbing because they do not cause pain even when pressed but this does not mean a person is safe with them.  Some arm pit lumps may become permanent and if painless, easy to forget.  It may be important to try to determine the cause of the lumps before one starts to ignore them.  If they are not associated with any serious or life threatening health condition, then one may safely ignore them and live.  However, one should occasionally check to see if they are growing, becoming painful, or manifesting any changes.

Arm pit lumps may be caused by various factors such as: allergy, microbial infection (caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi), swollen lymph nodes, swollen glands, fluid filled sacs (cysts), various types of cancers (such as breast cancer, leukemia, and lymphoma), or non-cancerous abnormal tissue growth (e.g. lipoma from growth of fatty tissue or fibroadenoma from growth of fibrous tissue).

Lymph node enlargement in the arm pit (axillary lymphadenopathy) can be in response to infection or stressors which includes chemicals in cosmetics.  It is a sign that the immune system is working and is dealing with agents that are foreign to the body.  Hair follicles may become infected and inflamed and painful.  This is armpit folliculitis. Cysts may be caused by infection or by clogging of fat glands.  Cysts may contain fluid, pus or gas.  These various forms of arm pit lumps generally feel soft.  Arm pit lumps that are cancerous generally feel hard and immovable.

Before one determines that the lumps are no cause for alarm, a doctor may indicate one or more tests such as an allergy test, a mammogram to detect breast cancer, collection of a biopsy for laboratory examination, or collection of a blood sample for laboratory blood cells count to rule out blood cancers such as leukemia or lymphoma.

Lumps caused by allergy usually disappear when one is no longer exposed to the allergen.  Lumps caused by bacterial infection will disappear with use of an appropriate antibiotic, prescribed by the doctor.  A warm compress (or cloth put in hot water and squeezed) can be applied to a cyst.  A cyst may be drained by a nurse.  If the armpit lump is painful, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory analgesic may alleviate the discomfort.  Lumps caused by non-cancerous abnormal tissue growth may persist for years, keeping in the same size and texture.  These can be left alone or removed by minor surgery.

If the doctor determines that the lump is cancerous, i.e. due to unlimited pathologic growth, then cancer treatment should be used.  Local cancers such as arm pit cancers can be removed by irradiation or surgery or local application of anticancer drugs.  This treatment should be early enough before the cancer spreads to other parts of the body.

Armpit lumps that are not painful and have been examined by a doctor and considered non-cancerous can simply be left alone.  However, if they are unsightly, cosmetic removal may be necessary.