Your groin is the part of the body located above the thigh in the crease where the body meets the leg on each side of the body. If you find a lump in your groin area, you may worry that it is a sign of a serious problem but often such lumps are nothing to lose sleep over. Read on to learn about the different types of lumps people can get in their groin area, how they are caused, and when it is time to go see a doctor for treatment.
What Can Cause a Lump in the Groin?
Lumps can form in any of the body tissues making up your groin area. The anatomical structures in the groin are your skin, a group of lymph nodes which you cannot normally feel, several leg muscles, and the inguinal canal on each side. The inguinal canal is a short passageway through which various structures, including ligaments, can pass between your abdomen and your genital area.
Common causes of lumps in, on, or near the groin include:
Lumps on the groin can be due to skin infections leading to boils or abscesses. Often they can develop around the pubic hair follicles in the skin of the groin area. This common skin infection is called folliculitis. Folliculitis is a skin infection caused sometimes by the skin rubbing too much by wearing ill-fitting underwear or caused by small cuts in the skin from shaving or waxing your hair near the groin. Small painful boils and abscesses filled with pus and can be caused by a chronic skin condition called hidradenitis suppurativa.
Infections can also cause swollen lymph glands in the groin. These lymph nodes are part of your immune system which helps to fight off infections. While your lymph nodes are fighting off infections, they become swollen and can be felt as lumps in your groin. Such infections include skin infections, diaper rashes, and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). More widespread infections can also affect your groin lymph nodes, such as glandular fever.
A lump in your groin can occur when an internal part of your body, such as part of your intestines, pushes through a weakness in the muscle and tissue wall that usually holds the intestines in place. Such hernias can occur in the groin area for different reasons.
The three types of hernias that can develop in the groin are:
- Inguinal hernias: These are more common in men and are caused by intestinal tissue protruding through the inguinal canal, a weak area in the abdominal muscle wall. The lump in your groin can be painful, particularly when you cough, bend over, or lift a heavy object.
- Femoral hernias: These are more common in women and occur when abdominal tissue passes through a naturally occurring weakness called the femoral canal. They are relatively rare and make up only 3% of all hernias.
- Incisional hernias: These occur in the area where you have a scar or other injury from a previous operation. About one in three people undergoing abdominal surgery will later have an incisional hernia.
Non-cancerous tumors or cancer
The groin area is not exposed to the sun as much as other areas of your skin. This means that skin cancers in this area are uncommon. However, non-cancerous lumps in the skin of the groin area are not so rare and include papillomas, more commonly known as moles.
Infections are often the cause for swollen lymph glands but certain types of cancer can also cause your lymph glands to swell in some cases. These include cancers of the blood, such as lymphoma or leukemia, or cancers that originated in other parts of the body and spread to the groin area.
Painful lumps near groin and females
When women experience painful lumps near the groin it is often due to the same causes that we see in men. Common causes of a lump in the groin or on the inner thigh near the groin in females include:
- Vaginal yeast infection: This is caused by the overgrowth of the candida fungus leading to itching and white discharge.
- Bacterial vaginosis: This common infection results from bacteria overgrowth changing your vaginal pH balance leading to watery vaginal discharge that has a fishy odor.
- Low-grade infection: Such infections can result from shaving your pubic hair or legs.
- UTI: Stands for urinary tract infection.
- Cellulitis: This is a common and potentially serious bacterial skin infection. You may initially see it as a red, swollen area that feels hot and is tender or painful to the touch. The problem is that this redness and swelling can spread quickly so you should seek treatment as soon as you can before it potentially spreads to the bloodstream.
- STDs: Sexually transmitted diseases include genital herpes, syphilis, gonorrhea, HIV, and more.
- Cancer: Certain cancers can spread to the inguinal lymph nodes causing them to swell. These cancers include melanoma, ovarian, cervical, vulva and vaginal cancers. A pea-sized painful lump in the groin in females which is hard and fixed in place, and persists for more than two weeks, may be a sign of female cancer in the pelvic or other areas of the body. Go and see your doctor as soon as possible, especially if you have a persistent fever.
Different Types of Lumps in the Groin Area
Depending on the cause, a groin lump may be firm or soft, painful or not painful, and mobile or stuck in one place. Below is a list of the most common types of lumps in, on or near the groin area:
- Cysts: These are fluid-filled lumps and are harmless. They may get larger and cause some pain or discomfort.
- Warts: These are small, fleshy growths caused by a virus. Those around the genital area are called genital warts and are caused by the human papillomavirus or HPV. While there is no medical cure for HPV, genital warts can be treated.
- Skin boil or abscess: These are usually sore or painful and can vary in size from small pimples to large abscesses. They are pink or red and are caused by skin infections. They are usually harmless.
- Lipoma: These are lumps which occur in the fatty layer below your skin. They feel soft and are usually benign.
- Swollen glands: Your lymph nodes may swell to be the size of a pea and suddenly appear as a result of an infection. Once you’ve recovered, the swelling will go down. Conversely, if your lymph nodes swell as a result of cancer, they appear rapidly, tend to feel hard or solid, and do not go away with time.
- Hernia: Groin lumps due to a hernia usually feel very soft and tend to disappear when you lie down. Hernias should not be left untreated.
- Enlarged veins: When enlarged veins occur in the groin area, they are medically known as saphena varix. They are caused by faulty valves inside your veins which prevent blood passing smoothly through and the resulting build-up causes swollen veins. These lumps in your groin can reach the size of golf-balls or larger, have a blue tinge, and usually go away when you lie down. However, saphena varix is an extremely rare condition and is more likely to occur if you have swollen veins in your legs or feet (varicose veins).
Diagnosis of a Lump in the Groin
All of the conditions mentioned above are best to be evaluated. Before making a diagnosis, I would first need to take your medical history, ask a few questions about your lump, and physically examine your groin area. A careful review of all the information about the lump in your groin and symptoms pertaining to it is key for any diagnosis.
Depending on its size and characteristics, I may determine that it is an abscess or boil. These may go away with time or may require some care such as warm compresses to the area or antibiotics.
If it’s a lump that can be reduced, there is concern for hernia. In order to confirm this diagnosis, I would order an ultrasound scan and may have the lump evaluated by a surgeon to determine further treatment. When ordering an ultrasound, I am looking for:
- Swollen lymph node
Treatment Options for Lump in Groin
Your treatment will depend on the characteristics of the lump and what type of lump you have. Some lumps need no treatment and will disappear if left alone. In the case of a cyst, you may be told to just keep it clean with no further treatment, but if it is particularly large or painful, your doctor may recommend for you to have it surgically removed. With hernias, surgery is often needed to move the tissue back into place and close the hole in the surrounding tissue wall. It is very important that you get appropriate treatment if you have a hernia to prevent serious complications. Finally, swollen glands will usually go down in time, but your doctor may give you a prescription for antibiotics to treat your underlying infection. If your swollen glands are due to cancer, you will need to see an oncologist.
Related Conditions and Risk Factors
Most lumps in the groin area occur spontaneously and are not necessarily due to any underlying or related condition. However, infections or cancers in other areas of your body may cause your glands to swell in your groin area, resulting in lumps on your groin. Also, if you are getting repeated boils or abscesses in your groin, this may be a complication of diabetes.
You are at greater risk of a genital wart or swollen glands in your groin if you contract an STD. For this and many other reasons, always practice safe sex and use a condom if your partner has not been tested.
You may be at a higher risk of developing a hernia if you:
- Have a family history of hernias
- Have a profession or lifestyle that involves a lot of heavy lifting
- Often strain during bowel movements
- Are overweight
- Are pregnant
- Have a chronic cough (that causes a repetitive increase in abdominal pressure)
When to See a Doctor
If you notice a lump in your groin area, do not delay. Go and see your doctor as soon as possible. Often the cause of your lump is not serious and it will go away with time, such as with cysts, lipomas, boils, and treated infections.
However, hernias and other more serious lumps need to be treated before they worsen and potentially cause significant health problems. Visit your doctor if your lump enlarges, becomes painful, becomes harder, or in any other way worsens.
If you are on treatment and the lump still remains after three weeks, return to your doctor and make sure that you receive any further necessary tests or treatment as discussed above.
How K Health Can Help
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K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.