Breast Pain – What Does it Mean?

Breast self examination.

Many women may react to breast pain with utter terror, assuming it is the work of the big C. However, breast cancer does not typically cause pain. This is not an absolute – some women do develop painful lumps. There are a multitude of potential causes of non-malignant breast pain, medically known as mastalgia. Some of these potential culprits may include:

  • Cyclic Pain – This is the most common culprit of breast pain, sensitivity, and tenderness. This pain tends to coincide with a woman’s menstrual cycle, with the pain being the most severe just before the woman’s period, with pain receding after the period has ended. This pain most often affects both breasts, and may feel like a heaviness or soreness that spreads from the breasts into the armpit and possibly down the arm. This pain is self-limiting and reduces on its own with time. Young women tend to have more severe mastalgia. For many women, this pain goes away permanently when menopause is reached.

  • Non-cyclic Pain – This is more common in women aged 30 to 50. It may occur only in one breast, or in both. It is often described as more of a sharp or burning pain that occurs in one localized area of the breast.

Non-malignant breast pain may often be treated with over-the-counter painkillers, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. If the patient suffers any chronic conditions, takes prescription medication, or is pregnant, she should consult her doctor or pharmacist before choosing any over-the-counter medications. A woman should see her doctor if breast pain lasts for longer than three weeks to discuss symptoms. Once the cause of long-lasting pain is determined, it is often treatable. A woman should also contact her doctor if she ever finds a lump anywhere in her breast tissue, whether she is experiencing pain or not.


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