How do I know if a lump or bump needs a doctor?
At some point, you may find bumps and lumps on various places on your body -- on your arms, on your back and even in your genital region. Some of them are signs that your body is fighting an infection, while others are harmless. Sometimes a bump or lump is your body's way of telling you that something is not right and you should talk to your doctor.
Here are a few types of bumps and lumps that you might see that should not be ignored:
There are two main categories of skin cancer. The first, nonmelanoma skin cancer, is very rare in young people. This type usually looks like a patch of skin that won't heal or a reddish bump that bleeds easily and does not go away.
The second type, melanoma, is the type of skin cancer that is most dangerous if not treated. It is more common in preteens and teens than the nonmelanoma type. Melanomas look like dark spots on the skin. They continue to grow and can even appear on parts of your body that aren't exposed to the sun. There are six important signs that can help you figure out if you should ask your doctor about a spot that you think might be a melanoma -- just think A through E:
A -- Asymmetry: A spot that is not the same on both sides is asymmetrical
B -- Borders: When the outline of your spot is wavy, rigid or uneven -- you should ask.
C -- Color: If your spot is a different color or changes color overtime, make a note and have your doctor take a look.
D -- Diameter: Melanomas are usually larger than the diameter of the eraser on your pencil (more than 1/4 inch or 5 mm)
E -- Elevation or Evolution: If the spot that you are worried about is raised above your skin (a bump) or if you notice it changing over time (evolving), it might be more than just a dot.
Ask your doctor about any dots on your body that look like these -- it might not be skin cancer but it is better to hear it from your doctor. To protect yourself from skin cancer and other sun damage, remember to wear sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher whenever you are outside -- even on cloudy days! (If you'd like to see what these bumps look like -- take a look at the American Academy of Dermatology Web site on melanoma.
Warts are small skin-colored bumps that usually exist in clumps. Sometimes you will have a few clustered together. Some warts stay the same, some will eventually go away on their own and others will grow or more will appear around them. Warts are caused by the Human Papillomavirus (or HPV) which is contagious and spreads through contact. HPV can cause warts on various parts of your body from your feet to your genitals to your face.
Genital warts, though, are especially important to pay attention to because they have been linked to cervical cancer in women. So, if you notice warts in that area, check with your doctor. Because of this, the Centers for Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that girls start a series of three HPV vaccinations between 10 and 11 -- before becoming sexually active (although, if you've become sexually active, it is not too late!). The vaccines are designed to help your body fight HPV and protect you from developing cervical cancer as you get older. There are a variety of treatments for warts regardless of where on your body they are and your doctor can help you decide what the best thing for you is. For more information, look at PAMF's article on the HPV shots.
So far, the news about dangerous bumps and lumps sounds a bit scary, but, don't worry yet! There are some bumps and lumps that are common and harmless.
Cysts are yellowish round lumps under the skin. They feel like a small ball or pebble that can easily be moved around. Cysts may grow a bit but usually stay about the same size. Cysts are caused by a variety of situations -- something as normal as a blocked follicle (the part of the skin that grows hair) can cause a cyst to form. Typically, cysts do not cause health problems and as a result, treatment is not needed.
Angiomas are just small collections of blood vessels that look like bright red or slightly purplish bumps. These little bumps stay the same size and, even though they are blood vessels, they should not bleed. Just like cysts, angiomas are harmless and do not require treatment.
Moles and Freckles
Moles are just clusters of skin cells that forget to spread out as they grow. They look like dark spots on your body that you are either born with or that can develop over time. Similarly, freckles are harmless dark spots that usually appear on your face and arms. Freckles are most common on people with lighter skin and people who spend a lot of time in the sun. Sun exposure can increase the number of them that you find on your body. The best thing that you can do to prevent a variety of spots (not just moles and freckles!) from showing up on your skin is to protect yourself from the sun with sunscreen.
In general if you have a bump or lump it is a good idea to keep track of it. If it changes in size, shape, color or any other noticeable way, it is an excellent idea to ask your doctor.
Hopefully this gives you a better idea about what is going on with your bumps and lumps. Knowing when you need to go to the doctor is helpful but remember that if you are unsure, it is always okay to ask!
By Renata Mullen, M.D.