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.