Skin lumps can have many different causes, which will impact how they look or feel. However, the following are some signs and symptoms that define a skin bump, says Rebecca Hartman, MD, MPH, a cutaneous oncologist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. (Keep in mind that a single lump can’t possibly match all of the descriptions on this wide-ranging list):
- A lump that feels soft, mushy, or squishy
- A lump that feels mobile
- A lump that’s fixed
- A lump that’s firm
- A lump that feels hard
- A lump that’s red and inflamed
- A lump that’s painful
- A lump that has a central pore
- A lump that looks well-defined under the skin
- A lump that has an irregular contour
- A lump that is growing
In addition, depending on the cause, you could experience accompanying symptoms to the skin lump. For instance, one sign of lymphoma, or cancer of the lymphatic system, is enlarged lymph nodes in your armpits, neck, or groin, along with fever and night sweats. (1)
Causes and Risk Factors of Skin Lumps
A “skin lump” is a specific symptom of a medical condition, so the cause behind it depends on exactly what the skin lump is.
These are skin-colored growths on the surface of the skin. (2) This bump is still worth mentioning here. These often appear in areas of irritation or where skin rubs together, like the neck or armpit, says Seminario-Vidal. These are benign. They’re more common after age 40, and can happen to anyone, but are more likely to appear on people who are obese, have diabetes, or have a family history. (3)
This is one of the most common causes of a skin lump, says Dr. Hartman, and they often appear on the face or back. “These are smooth and mobile, are oval with a defined border, and they aren’t entirely squishy, but they’re not firm and hard either,” she explains. The dead giveaway of a cyst is a lump that has a central pore in it. This happens when skin does not mature properly and folds into itself, forming the pore. (That said, not all cysts will have a visible pore, she says.) If infected, cysts might become red and painful or secrete fluid. If you suspect you have an infected cyst, seek medical care.
These are skin growths that are caused by the papillomavirus. (4) There are many different types of warts, and they are often located on the hands and feet. The most common type of wart has an almost cauliflower-like appearance.
These are benign nodules that may be found on the lower legs. (5) They look like a small, red raised bump and are firm and “rock-like.” They do not have a known cause. (6) If you pinch a dermatofibroma, it often appears to pucker inward, creating a small dimple. Rarely, a dermatofibroma may be a dermatofibrosarcoma, which is a type of skin cancer that looks like a cluster of lumps on the skin.
This skin lump is actually a benign tumor of fat that grows in the skin’s fat layer that can pop up anywhere on the body. “It can run in families, so there may be a genetic cause,” says Hartman. You’ll suspect a lipoma because it will be soft and mushy (it’s made of fat) and the edges won’t be well-defined. These are typically not painful.
Enlarged Lymph Node
Lymph nodes are part of your body’s immune system and are located in certain parts of the body, such as your armpit, groin, or below your chin in your neck. These can get swollen if you get sick as immune cells congregate there and fight off an infection, says Hartman. Lymph nodes in your groin may also enlarge and become inflamed due to extreme exercise (such as participating in a long endurance event, like a marathon), adds Seminario-Vidal. If your lymph nodes feel or appear swollen, you should seek medical attention.
If you had an infection, lymph nodes shrink to their normal size after you get better. They should still feel smooth and mobile. However, a lymphoma, or cancer in the lymph node, may become firm or hard and fixed. There may also be other symptoms of cancer, like decreased appetite, weight loss, fever, and chills.