Breast Cancer

Breast Pain

What is breast pain?

  • Also known as “mastalgia”, breast pain is very common, affecting most women at some stage of life. While it may cause varying degrees of discomfort, it is not typically a sign of breast cancer. 
  • However, occasionally persistent pain is a sign of aggressive cancer and pain that lasts for more than a few days needs to be investigated.

What are the symptoms for breast pain?

  • There are two main types of mastalgia – cyclical and non-cyclical.
  • Cyclical breast pain is linked to the monthly menstrual cycle and fluctuating oestrogen and progesterone levels, causing breasts to become tender or painful just before a period.
  • Non-cyclical pain, accounting for around one third of breast pain, is not related to the menstrual cycle and can be caused by infection or non-cancerous breast lumps.
  • In some instances, women can have referred breast pain caused by illness such as shingles or pneumonia or it may be brought on by muscle strain or strenuous physical activity.
  • Smoking significantly exacerbates breast pain.

Non-cyclical breast pain symptoms:

  • Burning, aching or sore breasts
  • More common in women in their 40s or older
  • Pain can come and go
  • Tends to be localised to one side of one breast

Cyclical breast pain symptoms:

  • Heavy, full and aching breasts
  • Commonly begins in the second half of the cycle, peaking in the 3-7 days leading up to a period and settling when the period begins
  • Commonly affects women in their 20-30s
  • Usually involves the upper outer breast area into the underarm
  • Can worsen in perimenopause and into menopause

What are the treatments for breast pain?

Some simple and effective measures offering relief include:

  • Smoking cessation 
  • Wearing a well-fitting supportive bra (sports bra)
  • Wearing a soft support bra to bed
  • Taking painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen
  • Low dose oral contraceptive pill can improve cyclical breast pain but for some women it can make it worse
  • Evening primrose oil has been reported to help some women
  • Excessive caffeine consumption has also been linked to breast pain and reducing intake may help.

This is not a substitute for medical advice. Please see your GP or breast surgeon if you have persistent breast pain symptoms.

    Quick Enquiry