Breast pain (mastalgia) will affect most women at some point in their lives.
Although breast pain can cause a lot of anxiety in women who fear that their pain may be due to breast cancer, breast pain is NOT usually an early symptom of breast cancer.
Types of breast pain:
Cyclical breast pain - where the pain is worse before menstruation. Cyclical breast pain can vary from a mild ache to severe pain. It often goes away once the period starts.
Non-cyclical breast pain - lasting breast pain where the pain is not related to menstruation. More common in women over 40.
Cyclical breast pain
- pain is usually in both breasts
- usually worst in the upper and outer part of the breasts
- usually worst 3-7 days before a period
- relieved by menstruation
The natural hormonal changes make the breast tissue over-sensitive, which causes the breast pain. The exact cause of cyclical breast pain is unknown.
- supportive bra
- simple analgesia
- prescription medications (eg. danazol, bromocriptine)
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin B6
- Evening primrose oil
- reduce caffeine, red wine, chocolate intake
If you experience worsening of your systmptoms while taking the contraceptive pill (OCP) or hormone replacement therapy (HRT), you may wish to consider discussing an alternative brand with your doctor.
Non-cyclical breast pain
- pain can be in one breast or both breasts
- may be persistent or relapsing
- not relieved by menstruation
The source of non-cyclical breast pain can be the breast itself (true breast pain), or from an underlying condition that is not directly related to the breast (eg. musculoskeletal inflammation). Often no cause is found for the pain.
- often resolves itself after a few months
- anti-inflammatory drugs (eg. ibuprofen)
If you have recently given birth to a child and you have a swollen, red, hard and painful breast, this is usually mastitis and can be treated with antibiotics.
Breast pain and breast cancer
Breast pain is not typically an early symptom of breast cancer.
Even when breast pain is associated with a breast lump, the cause is more likely to be benign than malignant (ie. non-cancerous). However, if you ever do find a breast lump (whether associated with pain or otherwise), you MUST see your doctor for a professional opinion.
Always see your doctor if you have any of the following:
- breast lump
- lump in the armpit
- abnormal nipple discharge
- change in the skin of the breast or nipple (eg. dimpled, scaly, or "orange peel" appearance)
- change in appearance of the nipple (eg. pulled in nipple, enlargement)
- change in sensation of the nipple (eg. itching)