Lump on Back: 5 Common Causes & What To Do

Updated in March 2024

A lump on the back is usually harmless and  caused by mild conditions, like a cyst or boil or warts. These are caused by an accumulation of fluid within a skin gland or pore and are easily treated

However, a painful hair lump pn the back that is red and growing may be a sign of a more serious health condition, like cancer. This type of lump should be assessed immediately for adequate intervention. 

If you notice lump that is painful, hard or fixed on your back, you should seek assessment. Once a diagnosis is confirmed, treatment can be initiated.

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The most common causes of a lump on the back are: 

1. Sebaceous cyst

A sebaceous cyst is a type of lump that forms under the skin. It usually consists of sebum, and is soft, moveable and painless. Some sebaceous cysts can become inflamed, however, and can appear red, hot and sensitive to touch. Inflammation is usually a sign of infection, and should be assessed by a doctor. 

How to treat: Sebaceous cysts usually do not need any treatment. However if it is uncomfortable, larger than 1 cm in diameter, or if it is painful due to inflammation or infection, you should see a doctor. The doctor may recommend removal, which is a small procedure done in the office under local anesthesia. Following removal, the doctor may prescribe a week of antibiotics to prevent further infection. 

2. Lipoma

A lipoma is a round lump that is made up of fat cells. They usually grow under the skin and grow slowly. This lump is usually painless and does not develop into cancer. Read more about what causes a lipoma and the symptoms associated with them. 

How to treat: Lipomas can be removed surgically under local anesthesia. Following the procedure, the doctor may prescribe a healing oil or cream to apply over the wound. 

3. Boil

A boil is an infection that occurs at the root of a hair follicle. It usually develops into a red, hot, painful lump with pus, similar to a pimple. Boils usually resolve within a few days, however if it persists for over 2 weeks, you should see a doctor for further assessment and treatment. 

How to treat: To treat a boil, you should wash the area every day with antiseptic soap and warm water. Warm compresses over the area can also help to draw out the pus. If the boil does not resolve on its own with these interventions, or if it worsens or grows,  you may need to see a doctor to start oral or topical antibiotics. 

You should avoid squeezing or puncturing the boil, as this can worsen the infection and cause it to spread to other parts of the skin. 

4. Warts

Warts are small skin legions that are generally harmless. They can emerge in people of any age and grow anywhere on the body.

Warts tends to be firm and contain a rough texture. They can be round or irregular in shape, and grow to about 1 cm in size. 

How to treat: It is important to see a dermatologist to assess the warts and remove them as necessary through laser therapy, adhesive tape or cryotherapy. 

5. Cancer

In very rare cases, a lump on the back may be a sign of basal cell carcinoma cancer. This is a type of cancer that emerges as small patches on the skin that grow over time. They usually do not metastasis to other organs. 

Basal cell carcinoma is usually found on areas that are most exposed to the sun. Affected skin will usually be slightly raised and will look like a wound that does not heal or constantly bleeds. Affected areas are usually pink or brown in color, and you may be able to observe small blood vessels surrounding it. 

How to treat: Any visible skin changes should be assessed by a dermatologist. Suspicious-looking lesions will usually be removed and sent for biopsy to investigate for the presence of malignant cells. Treatment usually consists of laser surgery and the application of cold therapy to affected areas, to remove malignant cells. Following the procedure, the doctor may recommend regular screening to assess for the presence of cancer. 

If the surgery is unsuccessful, or if there are many cancerous lesions, the doctor may recommend radiation therapy or chemotherapy. 

When to see the doctor 

Usually, a lump on the back is not a serious finding. However, you should see a doctor if the lump is

  • Growing
  • Draining pus
  • Painful, red or hot to the touch
  • Is hard and fixed 
  • Regrows after removal 

In addition, swelling on both sides of the neck, armpits or groin that does not resolve with time should also be assessed by a doctor.