Lumps in the Groin

Lumps in the groin occur where the leg meets the lower abdomen. They can be caused by cysts, muscle strain, hernias, infection, or cancer. Depending on the cause, the lumps may be firm or soft, tender or painless. Any unexplained lump in the groin, especially one that has been present for three or more weeks, should be checked by a urologist or other doctor.

Conditions That Cause Lumps in the Groin

Lumps can be caused by something as simple as a muscle strain, or something more serious like a hernia or infection. Causes of lumps in the groin include:

Cyst or abscess: Cysts and abscesses can form anywhere on the body, including the groin. A cyst is a pocket of tissue filled with pus or fluid. On the skin, cysts can form due to infection, a clogged oil gland, or foreign bodies. An abscess is a tender mass of skin full of pus and debris. It can be caused by blockage of the sweat or oil glands in the skin, inflammation of the hair follicles, or bacterial infection through small punctures or breaks in the skin. Symptoms associated with cysts and abscesses include:

  • Swelling
  • Pain
  • Skin that's warm to the touch
  • Skin discoloration, ranging from pink to deep red

Muscle strain: Putting too much stress on the muscles in the groin and thigh can cause a muscle strain—or groin pull—that results in swelling or a lump in the groin. Here are other symptoms associated with a groin pull:

  • Pain or tenderness on the inside of the thigh or in the groin
  • Feeling a pop or snap during the injury
  • Muscle swelling
  • Skin discoloration
  • Muscle cramp or spasm
  • Decrease in muscle strength or full loss of muscle function

Infection: A cut or open wound in the groin, leg, foot, or genitals can become infected with bacteria. This can cause lumps in the groin that are due to swollen lymph nodes, which are part of the body’s immune system. Other symptoms associated with infection include:

  • Tenderness near the lymph node
  • Swelling, pain, redness, or warmth around the wound
  • Red streaks extending from the wound
  • Drainage of pus from the wound
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Night sweats
  • Chills
  • Aches and pains
  • Rash
  • Runny nose

Cancer: Certain types of cancer—testicular cancer, melanoma (skin cancer), or lymphoma—can also cause lumps in the groin. This can be due to swollen lymph nodes, or because melanoma can result in elevation of the skin, like the thickening of a mole. Cancer can also cause the following symptoms:

  • Tenderness in the area of the lymph node
  • Redness or swelling around the cancerous skin (melanoma)
  • Unexplained weight loss or fatigue (lymphoma)
  • Swelling in the scrotum or testicles (testicular cancer)
  • Fatigue
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Yellowing, darkening, or redness of the skin
  • Sores that won't heal
  • Changes in bowel or bladder habits
  • Persistent cough
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Hoarseness
  • Indigestion or discomfort after eating
  • Muscle or joint pain
  • Persistent fevers or night sweats

Hernia: A hernia (or inguinal hernia) happens when tissue pushes through a weaker spot in the groin muscle. This causes a lump or bulge in the scrotum or groin. Other symptoms of an inguinal hernia include:

  • Appearance of the bulge after heavy lifting, straining, or coughing
  • Tugging or burning sensation around the hernia
  • Sudden pain, vomiting, or nausea

Sexually-transmitted infections (STIs): Infections, such as genital herpes and chlamydia, can cause the lymph nodes to become swollen. STIs can also result in the following symptoms:

  • Flu-like symptoms, such as headache, fever, and muscle aches
  • Itching, burning, or tingling in the groin or genitals
  • Painful urination
  • Lower abdominal pain
  • Painful bowel movements
  • Vaginal discharge (women)
  • Discharge from the penis and/or testicular pain (men)

Undescended testicles (testes): When the testicles fail to drop into their normal position in the scrotum before birth, they may be located in various areas, including the abdomen or groin. If the testicle is found in the groin, the lump is smooth, oval, noncompressible, and tender to the touch. There usually are no other symptoms.

Diagnosing a Lump in the Groin

In order to diagnose the underlying cause of a lump in the groin, a physician will perform a physical exam and ask about the patient’s medical history and symptoms. The physical exam may include an assessment of the groin, lymph nodes, muscles, genitals, or pelvic area.

During the medical history, the doctor will ask about:

  • The size of the lump, its location, and how long it has been there
  • Changes in the lump over time
  • Whether the lump worsens (or appeared) while coughing, straining, or heavy lifting
  • Other symptoms that are present
  • Sexual activities to rule out STIs

Based upon the information gathered, the doctor may also request the following tests:

  • Blood tests to check the blood cell counts or for the presence of an infection (including STIs like syphilis and HIV)
  • Biopsy (removal of a small piece of tissue for testing), such as of from a lymph node or cancerous skin lesion
  • Imaging tests, like MRIs or x-rays, to look for muscle injuries.


References

Armitage JO. (2011). Approach to the patient with lymphadenopathy and splenomegaly. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed.

Gerber GS, Brendler CB. (2011). Evaluation of the urologic patient: History, physical examination, and the urinalysis. Campbell-Walsh Urology. 10th ed.

Tower RL II, Camitta BM. (2011). Lymphadenopathy. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 19th ed.

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