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Breast Pain Causes and When to Seek Help

To experience occasional breast pain is common, however, breasts don`t typically hurt. There are various causes of breast pain, also known as mastalgia – which is categorised as cyclical or non-cyclical.

The 2 most common factors of breast pain are hormone fluctuation (puberty, pregnancy and menopause) and fibrocystic (lumpy) breasts. Other causes of breast pain also include breastfeeding, unhealthy diet, large breast size, a poorly fitted bra, pain from scar tissue after breast surgery, medications for heart disease antibiotics, antidepressants, hormone therapy, and an increase of epinephrine levels in the breast tissue due to smoking. Sometimes breast pain is caused by irritation of the chest, arms, or back muscles. This is common if you’ve participated in physical activities like raking, rowing, shoveling, and waterskiing.

Breast Pain and Breast Cancer

Breast pain is not generally linked to breast cancer, and having breast pain or fibrocystic breasts does not mean you are at higher risk of developing breast cancer.

If you have breast pain in only one area and that is consistent through the month with no fluctuations in pain level, call your doctor to help determine if your symptoms are related to cancer. Examples of diagnostic tests can include a mammogram, ultrasound, and MRI or biopsy.

If you have sudden breast pain that comes with chest pain, tingling, and numbness in your limbs, do seek medical attention immediately as these symptoms can indicate a heart attack.

When to Seek Help

Make an appointment to see your doctor if your pain:

– keeps you from participating in your usual daily activities
– lasts longer than 2 weeks
– accompanies a new lump that appears to be getting thicker
– seems to be concentrated in one specific area of your breast
– seems to get worse with time

Source and more information:

Information and Answers Regarding Breast Pain

An excerpt from Solving the Mystery of Breast Pain by Judy C. Kneece, RN, OCN

Breast pain is frightening because most women associate pain with cancer. However, in reality, breast pain may be uncomfortable and annoying, but it is usually not unbearable. What seems unbearable is the fear that it may be cancer. However, less than 10 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer in one large clinical study had breast pain as a symptom of their cancer. Most breast pain is not associated with cancer but from the female hormones the body makes monthly.

But, because breast cancer could be a cause, a physician should be notified of recurring breast pain. A physician’s examination and a mammogram can help determine the cause of the pain. All recurring breast pain needs evaluation to determine its cause.

To assist your physician, it will be helpful if you understand the different kinds and characteristics of breast pain. Pain in the breast is referred to by physicians as mastalgia or mastodynia. This pain may be characterized as cyclic, noncyclic or musculoskeletal.

Cyclic Pain appears to be related to the female hormones estrogen, progesterone and prolactin. Their effects on breast tissue vary at different times of the month and life cycle. Pain related to these changes usually begins at ovulation and increases until the menstrual period begins. After menstruation, the pain decreases. Both breasts are usually involved, but occasionally, one breast will experience a greater degree of pain. Often, the pain is greatest in the upper-outer quadrants (from the nipple back toward the armpit) and sometimes radiates to the arm pit and arm. The discomfort is felt throughout the area and is often described as a dull, aching pain, as if the breast were filled with milk. Pre-menopausal women experience this pain. Menopause relieves the symptoms. This bilateral (both breasts) pain has no relationship to cancer.

Noncyclic Pain differs from cyclic pain in that it has no relationship to the menstrual cycle and the female hormones. This pain can be continuous or may only occur from time to time. The pain is usually localized to a specific area in one breast (unilateral). Described as a sharp, stabbing or burning sensation in the breast, the pain is most often found after age 30. This pain has been linked to fluid-filled cysts, fibroadenomas, duct ectasia, mastitis, injury and breast abscesses. Treatment may include withdrawing the cyst fluid, surgically removing the fibroadenoma, prescribing antibiotics, or having surgery for duct ectasia, mastitis or abscesses.

Some noncyclic pain is also related to musculoskeletal causes. The most common is pain that comes from a pinched nerve in the back, cervical or dorsal radiculitis. Often, a history of back injury, scoliosis, arthritis or osteoporosis is involved. One breast will be painful.

Tietze’s Syndrome: Another cause of breast pain originates in the area of the breast bone and ribs and is known as Tietze’s syndrome. It is commonly called painful costochondritis (inflammation of the cartilage of the ribs). This pain is localized to the medial half (closest to breastbone) and is tender when pressure is placed on the breastbone, when the rib cage is moved, or when a deep breath is taken. This pain often occurs after doing heavy lifting or activities that stretch the upper body. If the pain is from costochondritis, ibuprofen or aspirin, taken for several days on a regular basis, will usually reduce the pain.

Phlebitis: Other causes for breast pain may be from phlebitis (an inflamed vein), called Mondor’s syndrome. Even infected teeth have been shown to cause referred breast pain. Additionally, some herbal products such as Ginseng and Dong Quai will cause breast tenderness and pain as can many prescription medications.

Pain associated with cancer, is usually noncyclic, located in one breast and is often accompanied by a lump, skin retraction (dimpling), a bulge on the breast, skin changes (having an orange peel look) or a suspicious mammogram. All noncyclic pain that recurs should be examined by a physician.

Determining the Type of Pain:
If you cannot determine if your pain is cyclic or noncyclic, keep a record of the pain you experience daily and its time in your cycle. After one – two months, you will be able to tell if the pain is associated with the fluctuating hormones of your menstrual cycle (cyclic), or if it bears no relationship to hormonal changes (noncyclic).

Breast Pain Evaluation: If you have recurring breast pain, schedule a breast exam with a physician. After a complete history and breast exam, a mammogram will probably be ordered (if over 35) to search out any cause not apparent on the exam. If the exam and the mammogram are negative (no suspicious findings), a search to determine what type of pain and how to relieve your pain should be started. If a lump or cyst is found, a biopsy may be needed to remove the suspicious area or to rule out cancer. It is important to inform your physician of any new prescription or over-the-counter medications you are taking, including herbal supplements.

Ninety percent of breast pain in diagnosed women with breast cancer is not related to cancer. Pain with breast cancer is rare, but all pain needs a thorough evaluation by a physician to be assured that cancer is not present.

For more information, see Solving the Mystery of Breast Pain. This book gives straightforward answers to these questions for the woman who wants to understand and monitor her own breast health.


*All information in this post is published for general information and educational purposes only. Arms of Mercy NPC and the website do not offer any diagnosis or treatment, and will not be held liable for any adverse health effects, losses and/or damages whatsoever. Any action you take as a result of the information is at your own risk, and does not replace the advice of a qualified medical practitioner. Always consult with your medical healthcare practitioner.

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