Can I wait for two months to go to the doctor for this?
June 25, 2014 4:31 AM   Subscribe

I found a lump in my armpit and will be getting it checked out by a doctor. Unfortunately, I work in a contact-based job and my next contract is schedule to begin in August. My benefits, including health insurance, will be in place again at that time, but I'm uninsured during summer months. Is this the sort of thing that can wait until I have insurance again or do I need to go to the doctor right now?

I'm in my 20s and have no other health problems.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (24 answers total)
Are you a man or a woman?

I don't know what to tell you. It could be nothing. I had a strange lump once and it just went away- after a few weeks... It was either a cyst or unhappy gland. And sometimes I get lumpy around my period...

But let me tell you. You should get a lump checked if it's there for a couple weeks....A lump near your lymph nodes is nothing to mess around with.

So don't freak, but if it doesn't go away in a quick fashion you really need to bite the bullet.
posted by misspony at 4:42 AM on June 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

See if there is a free/low cost clinic that will at least check you out and tell if you if it needs further attention. This is what I did when I had horrible health insurance for awhile--it wasn't the nicest place, but they took decent care of me and it was like $20/visit.
posted by chaiminda at 4:45 AM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Are you male or female? Did you have any other symptoms recently (sore throat, common cold, runny nose, tiredness, feeling slightly sick)?

There are lymph nods in the armpit that can be engorged if your body is fighting off some kind of illness (sometimes as small as a sore throat/runny nose! And the most likely reason for the swollen mass.). Do you know how long the lump has been there? Are your other lymph nods swollen? Any serious diseases in your family's medical history?
There are other reasons for a mass in the armpit than a benign swollen lymph nod, but those are generally less likely to present in a healthy 20-something.
posted by travelwithcats at 4:46 AM on June 25, 2014

I would suggest doctor as soon as possible if you possibly can. My cousin, in his 30s, found a lump. He's just finished his chemo for non-Hodgkins and has got through pretty well, but only because he went early enough. Better safe than sorry. Good luck with it.
posted by LyzzyBee at 4:47 AM on June 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

Not enough information-
Upper outer quadrant including armpit is an area of concern for breast CAs but your age means it's less suspicious than in an older person, your family and personal history is important. I wouldn't hesitate but then I have socialised healthcare

-Is there a walk in well woman clinic ?
(even an STD free clinic would examine you here?)
posted by Wilder at 4:50 AM on June 25, 2014

Sorry, but I think my vote has to go with "doctor". If it's nothing, then the doctor visit will be relatively cheap. If it's something, then it will be very worthwhile to have caught it early.
posted by aimedwander at 5:01 AM on June 25, 2014 [7 favorites]

Definitely get it checked out ASAP. Depending on where you are, you may be eligible for free cancer screenings. If not, try a Planned Parenthood or other free/low-cost/sliding scale clinic, or your local county hospital. Definitely worth the cost of immediate investigation.
posted by stillmoving at 5:09 AM on June 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

You have no income so you should be eligible for medicaid. Go to your local DHS office and apply. In some states you can start the application online.
Try and find a low cost clinic. It's ok to call around and set up a payment plan provided your new job will let you do that.
posted by AlexiaSky at 5:43 AM on June 25, 2014

I didn't want to scare you OP, but since other's have mentioned scary words like cancer... I will chime in once more- my mother's breast cancer (men get breast cancer too) started with a lump near the nodes and she waited 2-3 months... by that time it had spread to the nodes and was already set to travel through the rest of her system. She probably would have had a better outcome if she had gone in early.
posted by misspony at 5:45 AM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Although it never hurts to see a doctor sooner rather than later, I'm going to go against the grain on this and say that it might not be that urgent. Everyone in here is focusing on the possibility of cancer, and while that is certainly part of the differential diagnosis, cancers generally progress slowly enough that a two month delay in diagnosis won't change the outcome. Without knowing more information it is impossible to say what is going on in your armpit, but it may not even be a lymph node, and if it is, it may be swollen due to an infectious process. If that's the case it may go away on its own or it may develop into an abscess, in which case you will end up going and getting it treated just to relieve the pain. And that's just a small subset of the possible things that could be going on.

A couple of other things to consider: Depending on the relative supply and demand of healthcare in your location, it may take several weeks before you can be seen as a new patient. So you may want to start looking for a physician now so that you can be seen immediately after your insurance coverage kicks in. Also, assuming you're in the US (pretty much the only developed country where this sort of thing comes up), the new insurance rules under Obamacare require that you be given insurance even if you have a pre-existing condition. So if you decide to go ahead and see someone before your insurance kicks in you will only be on the hook for the initial visit, and your new insurance should cover the expensive part of cancer treatment (in the unlikely event that that is what you have).
posted by TedW at 6:04 AM on June 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

Please see a doctor.

If you can't find a doctor who will see you without health insurance, try to find an urgent care center in your area -- it will be much cheaper than your local hospital emergency room.

As mentioned above, if it's nothing, you'll only be out the cost of the doctor's visit, and if it's something bad, it will have been worth the money to catch it earlier rather than later.
posted by tckma at 6:27 AM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

I had this happen when I had no insurance. Planned Parenthood looked at me and felt like I should get it checked out further, and they were able to give me a referral to a local cancer center that did no-cost screenings. I was fine, but it was a tense month. Please go see someone.
posted by MeghanC at 6:29 AM on June 25, 2014 [7 favorites]

People have been asking if you are male or female -- I don't think this matters. Men get breast cancer too -- it's statistically rare, but it's hard to apply those risks to individuals. I think Planned Parenthood would be a good place to contact -- if they can't see you, they will be able to help you find other places to go.
posted by OrangeDisk at 6:37 AM on June 25, 2014

Gender can matter because women can get lumpy around their menstrual cycle.... so if you are a woman its just one more reason not to freak out. If the OP is like me and terrified of the doctor and words CANCER ahhhhh! Then it helps to have a list of possible innocuous reasons in the back of my mind.

This could also be a cyst, infected hair follicle.... anything- so I wouldn't worry. But I really really would, for my own peace of mind. Get it checked out by a doctor. MeghanC's plan of action sounds super to me.
posted by misspony at 6:45 AM on June 25, 2014

Could be a lymph node. Have you been sick lately? Do you feel like you're fighting a virus? I've had this before and it went away. If it's a lymph node it just means your immune system is being taxed so bump up the vitamin C or echinacea or get rest or whatever old wives tail you ascribe to for immunity.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 6:55 AM on June 25, 2014

If it has any pimple-like qualities, I would consider it less concerning than if you can simply feel something firm under the skin.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:47 AM on June 25, 2014

Better safe than sorry.
posted by Dansaman at 8:15 AM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Update from the anonymous OP:
Several responders have asked my gender. I wanted to let them know I'm female.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:32 AM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Get it looked at. If it is something that is benign, you can put off treatment until your insurance will cover it. Even if it is benign, say a lipoma, because it is in your armpit with all the attendant nerves, lymph carriers and blood vessels, they will most likely have to give you some for of general anesthetic when they get rid of it. (I had a lipoma in my armpit in my early 20s. I ignored it for months before dealing with it, it was ok, but I would not recommend that course of action. Also, because some of the advice above seems sex-specific, I am male, so YMMV.)
posted by Hactar at 9:08 AM on June 25, 2014

What type of lump? If it is a small (less than half of a pea), round lump in/close to the skin, it is most likely a benign cyst or a clogged pore.
posted by puertosurf at 9:38 AM on June 25, 2014

If I were you, I'd wait a week or so to see if it goes away on its own. I tend to be pretty paranoid about my lymph nodes after having heard one too many cancer horror stories, but every time I've had weird lumps and bumps or pain, it's ended up being nothing but my body fighting off a cold or a pimple or something. If it starts getting bigger or painful, then it's doctor time asap.
posted by yasaman at 9:44 AM on June 25, 2014

Check your chest and back for infected cuts. Also monitor the size of the lump over time. I woke up to a baseball one day. Turned out to be a lymph node going nuclear over a cut on my chest. By the end of the day it was a golf ball, and the next morning it was a pea. My doc's explanation was basically that something really bad got in and my immune system freaked and escalated to thermonuclear warfare. Mad respect for it now.
posted by jwells at 5:54 PM on June 25, 2014

You're young for breast cancer (but it can happen), but you're prime time for Hodgkin's lymphoma, so just please see someone asap. Planned Parenthood is a good idea - they can refer you to someone on a sliding fee scale if they think your lump needs to be examined by a professional. A lot will depend on whether the lump is painful or not, whether it's hard or rubbery or more like an ingrown hair, infection, early abscess, etc. and whether there are other lymph nodes in your armpits or groin which are also enlarged and/or tender.

Really, it's just one fairly inexpensive visit to a clinic and it might be nothing - or you might be very glad you got it looked at quickly.
posted by aryma at 8:09 PM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Your contract job health insurance should have a COBRA option for the summer months. If not, you can go to and get insurance. Change in employment is a qualifying condition that allows you to sign up off-cycle. (IANAInsuranceProfessional)
posted by theora55 at 8:33 AM on June 26, 2014

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