What Is a Skin Lump? Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention

Medically Reviewed

The term “skin lump” may be vague — and the symptom can stem from many, varied causes — but by decoding how it feels and looks, you can gain some clarity about what’s going on. “When patients complain about lumps, it usually refers to something on the skin that feels elevated or something under the skin that elevates it,” says Lucia Seminario-Vidal, MD, PhD, a board-certified dermatologist in the department of cutaneous oncology at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida. (A dermatologist wouldn’t call it a “skin lump,” and would more likely use a term like “elevated lesion,” she says.)

“Skin lumps” can be divided into three different categories, says Dr. Seminario-Vidal:

  • Benign: Noncancerous and may require no treatment
  • Inflammatory or infectious: Requires treatment but is not life-threatening
  • Malignant: These are cancerous and would require treatment in the short-term (rather than a wait-and-see approach)

Signs and Symptoms of Skin Lumps

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, according to the Mayo Clinic. (1)

Common Questions & Answers

What causes lumps on the skin?
Lumps can be on or underneath the skin. They may range from skin tags, lipoma (fatty deposits under the skin), cysts, warts, inflammatory acne, lymphoma (cancer of the lymph system), or skin cancer, including basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, or melanoma.
What does a cancerous lump look like?
A cancerous lump may feel firm or hard and will be in a fixed spot. (In other words, if you press on it, you will not be able to move it around.) A skin cancer appears as a shiny bump or nodule that’s clear, pink, red, white, tan, black, or brown. It may also be a spot that changes, is growing, or has irregular borders or contains multiple colors.
What are small hard lumps on the skin?
These may be dermatofibromas, which are small, benign, and usually painless skin growths that feel like a stone or a BB (a small metallic ball). These can show up on the lower legs, upper arms, or upper back, and are usually less than ½ inch in diameter. They will usually dimple when you gently squeeze them from the sides.
What does a skin nodule look like?
A skin nodule is defined as a raised bump in the skin that’s between 1 and 2 centimeters (cm).
When should you worry about a lump?
Talk to your doctor if you have a new lump, a preexisting lump that has changed (for example, it has a different texture than before), is growing, hard, or painful, or if it affects your activity in the area that it’s located.

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.

Skin Tag

skin tag

These are skin-colored growths on the surface the skin, per Harvard Health Publishing. (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, according to information from StatPearls in August 2020. (3)



This is one of the most common causes of a skin lump, says Dr. Hartman, and 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.)


wart on finger
Dmitry Epov/Alamy

These are skin growths that are caused by the papillomavirus, points out Johns Hopkins Medicine. (4) There are many different types of warts, and are often located on hands and feet.



These are benign nodules that may be found on the lower legs, notes DermNet NZ. (5) They look like a small, red raised bump and are firm and “rock-like.” They do not have a known cause, notes Harvard. (6) Rarely, a dermatofibroma may be a dermatofibrosarcoma, which is a type of skin cancer that looks like a cluster of lumps on skin.


Christopher Marsh/Alamy

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

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 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.

How Are Skin Lumps Diagnosed?

Your dermatologist can do a physical exam to diagnose your skin lump. If there’s something concerning (for example, a skin lump or bump is growing), then a biopsy will likely be recommended, says Seminario-Vidal. Depending on where the lump is located or how deep it is under the skin, a dermatologist can do the biopsy. In areas where skin is particularly thick, like the back, a plastic surgeon may have to open up the skin under local anesthesia, she says. (If extremely deep, general anesthesia may be used.)

Deeper lesions or potentially cancerous lumps may be evaluated with imaging first. This can be done with scans like computerized tomography (CT) scan, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, or ultrasound, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). (7)

Prognosis of Skin Lumps

“When patients notice a lump, they’re often understandably concerned, but most of them are benign,” says Hartman.

Benign (noncancerous):

  • Skin Tags (3)
  • Cysts (8)
  • Lipoma (9)
  • Wart (4)
  • Dermatofibroma (6)
  • Enlarged lymph node, if caused by a viral infection, like the common cold

Possibly cancerous:

  • An enlarged lymph node, if caused by lymphoma, or cancer of the lymph system (1)
  • New, changing, itching, or bleeding spot, lesion, or bump on skin, which could point to a nonmelanoma or melanoma skin cancer, notes the American Academy of Dermatology (10)


  • Dermatofibrosarcoma (6)

Duration of Skin Lumps

How long skin lumps stick around and recovery time completely depends on what has caused the skin lump, and whether it needs to be removed. For some issues, like skin tags, these stick around for life, and typically do not need treatment unless they’re causing a problem (such as getting caught on clothing). An inflamed cyst (which may be red and painful), may shrink down over the course of a few days as inflammation subsides, but ultimately a cyst will need treatment if the patient would like to get rid of them permanently, says Hartman. Sometimes the area they are located in, such as the face, means that treatment could be more disfiguring than the cyst itself, and in those cases, she may suggest that patients leave the cyst alone. Lipomas are also typically not removed, adds Hartman, unless it is large, growing, or bothersome.

Treatment for Skin Lumps

Many skin lumps won’t go away on their own and require treatment. Often, however, the lump is not dangerous and it can be left alone if not bothersome. Here’s a look at the treatment for some of the more common causes of skin lumps:

Skin Tag Skin tags are benign, and they do not need to be removed. However, if a skin tag is removed, it may be taken off using one of three methods: snip excision, cautery, or cryosurgery. (3) (Cryosurgery is when your doctor will use a cold liquid, like liquid nitrogen, to freeze the skin tag, says the National Cancer Institute.) (11) It’s important to know that you should not try to remove a skin tag on your own, as they can bleed when taken off.

Cyst To get rid of a cyst, you will need it removed, says Hartman. But first: Do not take matters into your own hands. “I tell people not to pop them. Squeezing it may press out keratin, but that does not get rid of the problem, and may make it worse by causing more inflammation,” she says. The wall, or lining, of the cyst needs to come out, too, which your doctor can do by cutting out the cyst. They won’t do this until inflammation has subsided. Oral antibiotics may be prescribed to reduce inflammation. Cysts can also be drained as a temporary solution; doctors can also give a cyst a steroid injection to help calm it.

Wart It may take quite a while (potentially years), but your wart will eventually disappear without treatment. (4) At home, you can use an over-the-counter wart removal kit. At the doctor’s office, you may get a wart frozen off with liquid nitrogen.

Dermatofibroma These are benign, but surgical removal is an option, according to StatPearls. (12) There is a rare skin cancer called a dermatofibrosarcoma, which develops in connective tissue in the dermal layer of skin and grows slowly, according to the Mayo Clinic. (13) Treating this type of skin cancer requires surgery, though radiation or targeted therapy drugs may also be used.

Lipoma If a patient has a lot of lipomas, doctors usually recommend not removing them, says Hartman. However, if the lipoma is large, growing, or bothersome, a doctor will cut out the lipoma. The minor procedure requires an injection to numb the area, but takes just 30 minutes, she says.

Enlarged Lymph Node You don’t need to treat an enlarged lymph node itself, but you’d treat the underlying cause. If lymph nodes are enlarged because you are sick with a viral infection like a cold, they should go back to their normal size once you recover, says Hartman. That said, if you find an enlarged lymph node that’s 1 centimeter (cm) or less, it’s soft, and you can move it around, that’s less concerning. Doctors may take a wait-and-see approach, and follow up to make sure it’s gone down, says Seminario-Vidal.

If you are diagnosed with lymphoma, then you will be treated appropriately for cancer, which may include chemotherapy, radiation, targeted drugs, and bone marrow transplant. (1)

Integrative and Complementary Approaches 

For many lumps, there is not much you can do at home. However, using a warm compress on a cyst that is red and angry can lessen inflammation to ease soreness, says Hartman.

When it comes to warts, there have been many alternative treatments suggested, some mainstream (duct tape), while others are more radical (distance healers that channel energy into the wart). None of the homeopathic remedies have been proven effective, notes data from InformedHealth.org. (14)

Prevention of Skin Lumps

Many skin lumps, like lipomas, may have a genetic cause, says Hartman. That’s one reason why you won’t be able to take steps to actively prevent all skin lumps. In order to prevent skin lumps or bumps that would be a type of skin cancer, everyone should be wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 15 every day, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. (15) When it comes to cysts, you won’t be able to prevent them from forming, but make sure you do not try to “pop” it yourself to prevent infection and scarring, says Cedars Sinai. (16) Skin tags can’t always be prevented, as there are genetic causes, but controlling conditions that make them more likely (like diabetes) will discourage their formation. (3)

Complications of Skin Lumps

Most benign skin lumps are not harmful, says Hartman. However, skin tags, cysts, and lipomas can be bothersome if they’re located on visible areas (like the face), catch on clothing (like an unfortunately located skin tag), or become inflamed and tender (like a cyst). Trying to drain or remove a skin lump at home risks complications like bleeding or infection.

Research and Statistics: Who Has Skin Lumps and How Common Are They?

“Skin lumps” are a common symptom. Here are some statistics related to various types:

Skin Tag Fifty to 60 percent of the general population have skin tags, with males and females being equal. (3)

Cyst Epidermoid cysts are most common in people who are in their thirties and forties, and occur twice as often in men versus women, according to StatPearls. (17)

Wart One-third of children and teenagers have warts, while just 3 to 5 percent of adults have warts, according to InformedHealth.org. (18)

Dermatofibroma These are most common for people in their twenties, thirties, and forties, and may be more likely to occur in females. (12)

Lipoma: One every 1,000 people develop a lipoma, according to Cleveland Clinic. (9) You can get them at any age, but are more likely in adults aged 40 to 60.

Lymphoma: Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) is one of the most common cancers in the US, according to the American Cancer Society. (19) In 2020, about 77,240 people will be diagnosed with NHL. Men account for more diagnoses compared with women.

Resources We Love

Favorite Organizations for Essential Skin Lumps Info

American Academy of Dermatology

The AAD provides up-to-date information on skin, hair, and nail conditions, how to protect your skin from cancer, and caring for your skin at any age.

Skin Cancer Foundation

Skin cancer is the most common cancer worldwide. Get facts, statistics, prevention strategies, and treatments for nonmelanoma and melanoma skin cancer.

Skin of Color Society

Provides education for African Americans, Asians, Hispanics or Latinos, Native Indians and Pacific Islanders on skin diseases and their causes. The organization also seeks to clear up misinformation on treatments for skin conditions.

American Cancer Society

Stay current on the types of cancer, their causes, treatments, and prognosis. Read about the latest in cancer research and breakthrough treatment. The organization also has a 24/7/365 live helpline when you need it.

Favorite App for Skin Lump Info


Upload a photo of your skin concern via your smartphone and enter your symptoms. The app then gives a few possible matches of what it could be. It does not replace a visit with your dermatologist, but it can help make your internet search easier.

Favorite Online Program for Skin Lump Info

First Derm

Here’s an online portal where you can upload a photo of your skin concern, which gets sent to a board-certified dermatologist for review. (The fee starts at $29.95.) Someone will reply within 24 hours, and you’ll either have peace of mind about your lump, bump, or lesion, or you’ll be directed to an in-person dermatologist for more help.

Favorite Videos for Skin Lump Info

Dr. Sandra Lee (aka Dr. Pimple Popper) YouTube

The videos are definitely gross-you-out, but this board-certified dermatologist has nearly seven million subscribers to her YouTube channel. Dr. Pimple Popper extracts all types of cysts, lipomas, and acne lesions. If you can handle watching, it’ll provide insight as to what’s going on with your skin — and how it may be removed.

Editorial Sources and Fact-Checking

  1. Lymphoma. Mayo Clinic. October 17, 2019.
  2. Skin Tags (Acrochordon). Harvard Health Publishing. March 2019.
  3. Skin Tags. StatPearls. August 8, 2020.
  4. Warts. Johns Hopkins Medicine.
  5. Dermatofibroma. DermNet NZ. January 2016.
  6. Dermatofibroma. Harvard Health Publishing. January 2019.
  7. Tests for Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. American Cancer Society. August 1, 2018.
  8. Epidermoid Cysts. Mayo Clinic. April 7, 2020.
  9. Lipomas. Cleveland Clinic. March 18, 2016.
  10. Do You Know How to Spot Skin Cancer? American Academy of Dermatology.
  11. Cryosurgery. National Cancer Institute.
  12. Dermatofibroma. StatPearls.
  13. Dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans. Mayo Clinic.
  14. What Are the Treatment Options for Warts? InformedHealth.org. November 7, 2019.
  15. Skin Cancer Prevention. Skin Cancer Foundation.
  16. Epidermoid Cysts of the Skin. Cedars Sinai.
  17. Epidermoid Cyst (Sebaceous Cyst). StatPearls. August 11, 2020.
  18. Warts: Overview. InformedHelath.org. November 7, 2019.
  19. Key Statistics for Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. American Cancer Society. January 8, 2020.
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