The most common benign breast complaint that women report to their healthcare providers is breast pain, often fearing that it might be a symptom of cancer. The good news about breast pain is that it is usually not associated with breast cancer. Nevertheless, any breast pain that is persistent and happening in the same area should not be ignored.
Why do women have breast pain?
Normal breasts are affected by fluctuating hormone levels during the menstrual cycle. Premenstrual levels of estrogen and progesterone can cause the breast to feel more lumpy and/or swollen. Many women report that the pain or lumpiness gets worse as they get older. This may be a result of increased sensitivity to the change in hormone levels. Most women tend to experience tenderness in their breasts the week before their menstruation. Sometimes women report breast pain throughout their entire cycle.
Types of breast pain
Cyclical pain is breast pain that is clearly related to the menstrual cycle.
Pain related to hormonal changes usually begins at ovulation and increases until the menstrual period begins. Pain usually decreases or subsides after menstruation.
Often the pain is experienced in both breasts, but occasionally only one breast is affected. The pain is usually in the upper outer quadrant of the breast.
Non-cyclical pain is breast pain that has no relationship to the menstrual cycle. The pain may be continuous or occur at various times throughout the month.
Patients may report pain that is localized to a specific area in one breast.
Some causes of noncyclical pain include breast cysts (fluid-filled sacs), fibroadenomas (benign breast mass), duct ectasia (inflammation in the duct), breast infection or abscess.
Musculoskeletal pain originates from a pinched nerve in the back or neck and radiates to the breast. Sometimes this pain is associated with a history of back injury, arthritis or osteoporosis.
What you can do about breast pain
Wear a well-fitted support bra, particularly when your breasts are most sensitive.
Go for a bra fitting. Make sure you are wearing the correct bra and cup size. You may consider purchasing a bra with a larger cup size to wear when your breasts are most tender.
Try modifying your diet. Reduce the amount of your daily caffeine and salt intake.
Supplements such as Vitamins E and B complex may be helpful, but it may take a few weeks before you notice a difference.
Contact your primary care physician or gynecologist if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Breast pain that is associated with a palpable breast lump
- Paint that is persistent and specific to one area in the breast
- Breast pain that is accompanied by skin changes or nipple retraction
Recommendations for Mammography and Clinical Breast Exam (CBE)
A woman’s lifetime risk for developing breast cancer is 1 out of 8.
Women who are 40 or older should have a routine screening mammogram every year in addition to an annual clinical breast exam by a doctor or nurse.
Women who have a family history or genetic tendency for breast cancer may start the screening process at an earlier age. It is important to discuss this information with your physician in order to determine the best time to start screening mammography.
Women between the ages of 20 to 39 should have a clinical breast exam at least once every 3 years by a doctor or nurse.
To schedule an appointment for a mammogram at our New Brunswick, NJ Women’s Imaging
Center, please call (732) 745-6686.
Walk-in appointments available for screening mammograms if you come in Monday through Friday between 8:00 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. A doctor’s prescription is required.
If you need to schedule an appointment with a breast surgeon, you can contact The Breast Center at Saint Peter’s at (732) 846-3300.