Breast pain: Causes, treatment, and prevention

Breast pain, or mastalgia, can occur anywhere in the breast or under the arms. It can result from a number of conditions.

It can be uncomfortable, but it is not often dangerous. It does not usually indicate cancer.

It most commonly affects women aged 30 to 50 years.

Causes

[Breast pain]
Breast pain can be uncomfortable, but does not usually indicate a malignant cancer.

Pain can occur in the breasts at different times of life and for a variety of reasons.

Two in every 3 cases appear to be linked to the menstrual cycle, while 1 in 3 has other causes.

It is not normally linked to breast cancer.

One study has found that the relative risk of a woman with breast pain developing breast cancer is between 0.3 and 0.7 percent. Among women aged 40 years and over who also had breast lumps, the risk was 1.9 to 3.0 percent.

When cancer causes breast pain, the symptoms tend to be on one side, constant, and intense.

Breast pain is normally due to fibrocystic changes, or changes in the breast tissue. These affect all women, but not everyone has symptoms.

Breast pain can happen:

During puberty, affecting females and in rarer instances males

Before and during menstruation

Around menopause

During pregnancy, especially in the first trimester

After giving birth, as breast-feeding begins

Mastitis can occur during breast-feeding if there is a blockage in a milk duct. This can lead to an infection, and it needs treating. The breast may be red and sore.

Fibrocystic breast tissue can affect women at any age and any time, but it may be more noticeable at certain times of the month, for example, just before menstruation. Cysts can form lumps in the breast. These cysts fill with fluid rather than tissue cells. Fibrocystic breast tissue is not usually linked to cancer.

Hormone therapy can sometimes worsen breast pain. Research has suggested that 16 percent of women with breast pain are using estrogen therapy, and 32 percent are using combined hormonal therapies. Researchers have not, however, established an exact link.

Fibroadenomas are benign breast lumps. They are a common type of tumor made of breast tissue and connective tissue. They are not cancerous.

Fibroadenomas are most common in women aged in their 20s and 30s, but they can happen at any age. They feel like a marble in the breast. They are not usually painful.

[Breast pain caused by breast-feeding]
Blocked milk ducts can become infected, causing pain for nursing mothers.

Some drugs may trigger breast pain.

These include:

digitalis preparations

methyldopa, or Aldomet

spironolactone, or Aldactone

some diuretics

anadrol

chlorpromazine

Smoking and caffeine may be risk factors.

Inflammatory breast cancer

While breast pain is not usually associated with breast cancer, there is a rare type of breast cancer known as inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) that can lead to pain.

Symptoms include redness, swelling, and an ache or burning in the breast, as well as a feeling of thickness or heaviness. It can be confused with mastitis or cellulitis.

If this type of symptom does not respond to treatment for mastitis or cellulitis, the patient should ask the doctor about IBC.

Inflammatory breast cancer: What you should knowInflammatory breast cancer: What you should know
Click here to find out more about this rare type of breast cancer.
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Treatment

Home remedies and over-the-counter treatments are often the best way to treat breast pain.

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