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What causes lumps in the armpit


Katherine McCuaig, MD, a physician at Banner Baywood Medical Center in Mesa.

Question: Sometimes I notice little lumps in my armpit area that I can't see but can feel. They usually go away after a few days. Is this something I should be concerned about?

Answer: There are numerous causes of lumps in the armpit. The glands, which secrete oil or perspiration, can become obstructed or infected, feeling like small nodules that are sometimes red and tender. If not treated, these infections can progress to an abscess that requires drainage.

 Lymph nodes can also enlarge due to infection. They are part of the body's immune system, so may increase in size to fight infection (from a cut on the arm, for example) or indicate infection (cat scratch fever).

In women, accessory breast tissue can also be found in the axilla, or armpit area. This may become more prominent and tender as the breast itself does during certain times of the menstrual cycle.

More ominously, cancer - either starting in the lymph nodes (lymphoma) or from another site (breast, melanoma) - can present as enlarged lymph nodes.

Any lumps in the axilla, if they persist, need to be investigated. If they resolve after a few days and do not recur, you probably don't have to worry.

Reviewed November 2010

Page Last Modified: 11/08/2010
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