Skin lumps

Any abnormal lump or swelling on the skin.

Most lumps and swellings are benign (not cancer). In general, when a lump or swelling appears suddenly (over 24 to 48 hours) and is painful, it is usually caused by an injury or an infection. On the other hand, if the lump comes on gradually (over several days or weeks) and does not hurt, it may be a tumor.

Common Causes

  • lipomas, 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  
  • boils, painful, red bumps usually involving a hair follicle  
  • corn or callus, caused by skin thickening in response to continued pressure (for example, from shoes) 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 (any colored or pigmented spot that bleeds easily, changes size or shape, or crusts and doesn’t heal)

Home Care
Skin lumps from trauma can be treated with rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Most other lumps should be examined by your physician before any treatment is tried.

Call your health care provider if

  • there is any unexplained lump or swelling.

What to expect at your health care provider’s office
The medical history will be obtained and a physical examination performed.

Medical history questions documenting your skin lumps in detail may include:

  • time pattern       o When did you first notice the lump?  
  • location       o Where is the lump?       o Is there more than one?  
  • type       o Is the lump rubbery or capable of changing shape (fluctuant)?       o Does it get scaly, weep, or bleed?  
  • location       o Is it over a joint?       o Is it over the back of the elbow (olecranon)?       o Is it in the back of the heel (Achilles tendon)?       o Is it over a muscle that extends or straightens a joint (extensor surface)?  
  • What other symptoms are also present?

The physical examination will include a detailed examination of the lump(s). If cancer is suspected, a biopsy may be done.

Antibiotics may be prescribed for fighting infection.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 7, 2012
by Sharon M. Smith, M.D.

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All ArmMed Media material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.