Unexplained lumps in any area of the body are a cause of concern for many individuals. One such common complaint is the presence of a lump on the sternum in the chest. Although individuals may fear a tumor or some other serious cause, in a large percentage of cases the most probable explanation for a sternum lump is found in a normal body part: the xiphoid process. Other issues such as hernias or tumors may be responsible in some cases, however.
The sternum is one of the primary bone structures in the chest. This structure runs vertically through the middle of the upper body. Its primary function lays in anchoring and connecting the ribs. The sternum begins with a dip at the base of the throat called the sternal notch. The resulting V-shape may feel like one or two knots. These lumps are normal.
Around roughly the center of the chest, the sternum ends in a bone and cartilage protrusion. The protrusion is known as the xiphoid process or xiphisternum, and different individuals have varying sizes and shapes of the structure. In some individuals, the xiphoid process is more prominent and sticks out away from the chest. This anatomical feature may feel like a hard lump on the sternum, especially if an individual is in a reclining position. Weight loss may also cause the xiphoid process to become more noticeable.
The xiphoid process is the likeliest explanation for many concerns regarding a sternum lump or sternum knot, but on occasion a medical issue may facilitate a lump on the sternum. Hernias are another common cause for body masses. These conditions result when part of an organ pushes against or even through the internal barrier that houses it. In the case of a lump on the sternum, protrusion of the stomach or the intestines may create the sensation. This type of hernia may be soft or hard and have associated pain, and it may be caused by a birth defect or by overexertion of the related bodily area.
In rare cases, a lump on the sternum may result from a tumor. Such masses found in the sternum are often benign or non-cancerous. A cancerous tumor around the sternum usually occurs due to a malignancy’s spread from a neighboring structure like the lungs. Either tumor type may or may not feature chest pain and fever as additional symptoms, depending on the size and precise location of the mass. Sternum tumors are one of the least common types of cancer.
What Is a Lump on the Upper Sternum?
Lumps on the sternum are often brushed off as the xiphoid process, the naturally occurring extension of the sternum at the bottom of the human body. It is true that the xiphoid process does protrude from the bottom of the sternum and is frequently the cause for undue alarm in many patients when they feel a lump there. However, it is essential to note that the xiphoid process is located only on the bottom of the sternum and nowhere else. Lumps on the upper sternum must be attributed to different causes.
What Causes a Lump on the Upper Sternum?
Even though the xiphoid process is ruled out, there are still a significant number of potential causes for lumps on your upper sternum. The reasons range from bruising and swelling to certain kinds of cancers. If you detect a lump on your sternum or anywhere on your body, seek medical evaluation immediately for best results.
A hematoma can occur anywhere on and inside the body. While some hematomas are more damaging than others, read brain bleeds, most can be repaired with simple measures. Hematomas are technically an extensive collection of blood that pools outside blood vessels. The blood pools outside of the blood vessels because the vessels were damaged or burst during an injury. Painful lumps may occur, depending on the injury. Hematomas are generally treated with alternating ice and heat treatments and rest.
A lump may also form due to costochondritis, but will usually disappear after a few weeks to months. Occasionally, costochondritis can reoccur in flare-ups that happen irregularly or result from anxiety or trauma. It causes pain in the upper breastbone areas where the upper ribs meet. The resulting pain and discomfort may not always render a lump, but sometimes does. While the cause of this inflammation is unknown, it is typically resolved with localized pain management and breathing therapy.
Like costochondritis, Tietze syndrome is an inflammatory disorder that is rare and located where the ribs attach to the breastbone, at your upper sternum. Unlike the occasional flare-ups that costochondritis sufferers experience, those living with Tietze syndrome experience ongoing discomfort due to the rare musculoskeletal disease.
Tietze sufferers may experience pain that spreads from the chest to the limbs. Many reports suggest that Tietze pain is first noticed with the onset of a small lump in the upper sternum. The node has been reported to fade and resurface but is generally not surgically removed. In some cases, with excessive growth, lumps are removed but not often. Treatment typically includes pain management, steroid therapy, and physical therapy.
Bony spurs occur when people have experienced trauma or an impact that may cause a bone to break or fracture. Bone spurs are the results of a bone attempting to repair itself. The end product is a bony growth that protrudes past the bone’s original surface. Bony spurs can occur in many patients who have cracked ribs or sternums and cause a lump on the upper sternum. Treatment includes steroid shots, physical therapy, pain management, and surgical manipulation or removal in extreme cases.
Osteochondroma is cartilage that develops over a bone spur in your body. When exostosis occurs near the cartilage of the sternum, rib cage, and breast bone section of your body, cartilage is apt to grow over the bony spur. Doctors report that other than the xiphoid process in the lower sternum, osteochondroma in the upper sternum resulting from cracked ribs is the second leading cause of chest lumps.
A cyst is a sac that forms under your skin, usually non-cancerous in nature. Cysts are sacs filled with fluid, air, or other materials. A cyst can also feel like a lump on your upper sternum. While some cancers can cause cysts, the cysts themselves are unlikely to be cancerous. Two of the most common indicators of a cyst over a tumor or any other lump are that cysts can move around under the skin and generally are tender to the touch.
A tumor is a mass of extra tissue where it should not be, like a lump on upper sternum areas. Tumors and cysts are frequently mistaken for one another as they both feel like lumps under the skin. Tumors can be readily identified from cysts in that they are fast-growing and firm, rarely able to be moved under the skin. While cysts are rarely ever cancerous, tumors regularly return malignant or cancerous results.
Frequently Asked Questions
What could cause a lump on the sternum?
Various medical conditions may cause a lump on the breastbone. The most common cause is inflammation of the costochondral joint, which is the joint between the rib and the sternum. This condition, known as costochondritis, can be caused by injury or overuse of the joint. Other potential causes of lumps on the sternum include cysts, lipomas (benign fatty tumors), osteoarthritis, and tumors.
How can I tell if the lump on my sternum is serious?
If you have a lump on your sternum, it is vital to have it checked by a healthcare professional. Your doctor can perform a physical examination and suggest imaging studies such as X-rays or an ultrasound to determine the cause of the lump. Based on the examination and imaging studies, your doctor may recommend further testing, such as a biopsy, to determine if the lump is caused by a serious condition such as cancer.
Could a lump on the sternum be an early sign of cancer?
Lumps on the sternum can be caused by various conditions, including cancer. Suppose a lump on the sternum is detected during a physical examination. In that case, your doctor may suggest imaging studies such as X-rays or an ultrasound to determine the cause of the lump. If the lump is suspicious, a biopsy may be recommended to determine if it is cancerous.
How can I prevent a lump on the sternum?
Most lumps on the sternum are caused by inflammation or injury of the costochondral joint. Avoid actions that might harm or misuse the joint, such as repeatedly lifting or pushing large things, to help prevent lumps on the sternum. Also, it's crucial to have a straight posture and adopt the right body mechanics while lifting or carrying out other tasks.
What treatments are available for a lump on the sternum?
The treatment for a lump on the sternum will depend on the underlying cause. If the lump is caused by inflammation or injury of the costochondral joint, your doctor may suggest rest, ice, and anti-inflammatory medications to help reduce inflammation and pain. If the lump is caused by a cyst, lipoma, or tumor, your doctor may recommend further testing, such as a biopsy, to determine the best course of treatment.