Breast Pain - Causes | Diagnosis | Treatment
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Breast Pain - Causes, Diagnosis and Treatment

Published on Apr 06, 2022 and last reviewed on May 08, 2023   -  5 min read


Breast pain, also known as mastalgia, develops in women during their reproductive life. To know more, read the article below.


In women, a breast is a tissue present over the pectoral muscle (also known as the chest muscle). It consists of fat tissues and a special tissue known as glandular tissue. The glandular tissues are responsible for the production of milk, whereas the fat tissue determines the shape and size of the breast. Breast development begins during the ages of 9 to 13, and in most women, they become fully developed by the age of 17 to 18.

The breast starts to develop during puberty and is due to the increase in the level of a hormone called estrogen. This hormone, along with various other hormones, plays an important role during the menstrual cycle and affects the breast tissues. Though breast pain is not a serious condition, it is safe to be aware of the conditions that might be associated with breast pain.

What Is Breast Pain?

The term mastalgia, also known as breast pain, is very common in women. The balance between the hormones might lead to occasional breast pain or discomfort in some women. Though breast pain is common, the severity and other pain-related factors vary widely from one woman to another. Generally speaking, breast pain is classified into two categories, namely cyclical and non-cyclical.

  • Cyclical Pain: This type of breast pain occurs due to the menstrual cycle and the hormone fluctuation in the body. Cyclical breast pain is more common, and they typically tend to reduce after the menstrual period.

  • Non-Cyclical Pain: Non-cyclical type of breast pain is rare, and the cause behind the pain might differ. In some cases, it might be due to an injury, or the pain itself might be from other surrounding muscles rather than the breast tissue.

What Are the Causes of Breast Pain?

Breast pain is most commonly caused by hormone fluctuation. The other causes of breast pain are listed below.

1) Hormonal Fluctuation:

During the menstrual cycle, the estrogen and progesterone levels fluctuate based on the stage of the cycle. The fluctuation in the hormone level makes a woman's breast feel swollen, lumpy, and painful in some cases. This type of breast pain generally worsens as the woman ages since the body becomes more sensitive to the hormone.

If the breast pain is caused due to hormone changes during the menstrual period, they tend to stop once the woman reaches menopause. In order to know if the pain is related to the menstrual cycle, it is advised to note the time of breast pain and the menstrual cycle to look for the pattern.

It has been reported that the pain will be worse two or three days before the start of the period, and then it gradually decreases towards the end of the cycle. Other developmental stages that also cause hormone fluctuation in women include:

2) Breast Cysts:

As a woman gets old, the breasts undergo a change known as involution. Involution means the breast tissue (glandular tissue) gets replaced by the fat tissue after a certain age. Sometimes, this might lead to a side effect where cysts develop during involution and are called fibrocystic breast tissue.

The fibrocystic breast does not always cause pain, but there are chances that it can cause pain. However, it is important to note that this is not a concern. Fibrocystic breasts usually become lumpy and have increased tenderness on the outer and the upper portion of the breast.

3) Breastfeeding:

Though breastfeeding is the most nutritional way of feeding the newborn, it also has its own difficulties. Different factors are associated with breastfeeding that might lead to breast pain. They include:

  • Mastitis - Infection of the milk duct, which causes itching, pain, or burning sensation on the nipples.

  • Improper Latch - If the baby does not latch properly to the breast while feeding, it also leads to cracking and soreness of the nipples.

  • Engorgement - This happens when the breasts become full with milk and enlarge along with the skin to be tight and painful.

Some other causes might also cause breast pain. They are:

  • Breast size.

  • Diet choices.

  • Smoking.

  • Certain medications.

  • Breast surgery.

Is Breast Pain a Cause for Breast Cancer, and How Is It Diagnosed?

Breast pain is not generally associated with breast cancer, and having breast pain or fibrocystic breasts does not increase the risk of breast cancer. However, one minor difficulty of having a lumpy breast is that it makes it difficult to identify tumors on a mammogram.

If the pain is localized to a particular region and there is no fluctuation in the severity of the pain throughout the month, it is important to consult a doctor. The doctor will conduct a physical examination initially to check and feel for any tumors. If the doctor suspects the presence of any tumors, the following diagnostic tests will be performed to help diagnose the tumor.

  • Ultrasound - This will penetrate the breast tissue and help locate the tumor without radiation exposure.

  • Mammogram - This test helps in identifying any breast tissue abnormalities.

  • MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) - If the ultrasound is not clear, an MRI is used to get a more detailed image of the breast tissue.

  • Biopsy - The doctor will remove a small portion of the breast tissue to study under a microscope to identify the presence of any cancerous cells.

How Is Breast Pain Treated?

The treatment of breast pain will be based on the type of pain that is cyclical or non-cyclical. The doctor will assess the patient's age, the severity of the pain, and medical history before suggesting any treatment options.

Cyclical Breast Pain:

The following are the treatment measures recommended by the doctor if a woman is diagnosed with cyclical breast pain.

  • Take oral contraceptives to level the hormone.

  • Reduce the intake of sodium.

  • Take estrogen blockers.

  • Take calcium supplements.

  • Suggest using supportive bras during the menstrual period.

  • Take pain relievers like NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs).

Non-Cyclical Breast Pain:

In the case of non-cyclical breast pain, the treatment will focus on finding the exact cause behind the pain and planning the treatment methods to address the underlying cause. The most common factor for non-cyclical breast pain to occur is the other medications that the patient might be taking. Hence, it is important to discuss the patient's medical condition and current medications with the doctors.


Though breast pain is common among women, it is important to be cautious about the various conditions associated with it. There are various self-check techniques for breast tissues, and they are helpful to ensure that the breast tissues are healthy and lump-free. Hormone supplements are also known to cause breast pain; always consult a doctor before using them. If the breast pain does not subside and persists for more than five days or if you begin to feel lumps in the breasts, consult a doctor immediately.

Frequently Asked Questions


What Are the Causes of Breast Pain?

There can be multiple reasons for breast pain which may include the following -
- Hormonal fluctuations.
- Breast injury.
- Breasts hurt due to a non-supportive bra.
- Breastfeeding causes breast tenderness.
- Breast infection.
- A side effect of some medications.
- Breast cyst.
- Complications from a breast implant.
- Breast cancer.


What Kind of Breast Pain Is Normal?

Breast pain that a female experience during this period is normal. This type of pain may come and go with the periods. This is caused by the fluctuations in hormone levels, causing the beast to swell and leading to tenderness. Even the pain due to an unfit bra may also be temporary and get resolved by wearing a good-fitting and supportive bra.


When Should a Person Worry About Breast Pain?

Breast pain that does not go away after one or two menstrual cycles or that stays long after menopause can be a sign of serious complications. Moreover, when the pain is located only at one specific region or is not associated with menstrual cycles can be a matter of concern. Most breast pain signals benign (noncancerous) conditions and rarely indicates breast cancer. 


What Are the Signs of Breast Cancer?

Some of the warning signs of breast cancer include -
- A lump or hard swelling in the breast or underarm.
- Thickening of the skin of the breast.
- Swelling of a part of the breast.
- Change in breast size or shape. 
- Pain in any part of the breast.
- Irritation on the breast skin.
- Redness or flaky skin around the nipple or breast.
- Discharge from nipple such as blood.


What Can Be Done to Treat Breast Pain?

Some of the treatment methods used to relieve breast pain, which include -
- Wear a well-fitting and supportive bra.
- Avoid smoking or other tobacco products.
- Take supplements or multivitamins such as vitamin E and magnesium.
- Take painkillers and apply heat to the tender area.


Is Stress Linked to Breast Pain?

Stress can be linked to breast pain. The stress can cause fluctuation during the menstrual cycle, leading to breast pain, which may come and go. Stress can also cause breast pain affecting women before and after menopause. The pain can be experienced in both or one breast and may be resolved independently.


What Are the Types of Breast Pain?

There are two types of breast pain which include cyclic and non-cyclic. The cyclic pain may come and go with the menstrual cycle, such as breast pain or tenderness, and can be experienced only during the menstrual cycle and will go away with the completion of the cycle. 
Non-cyclic pain is not connected to the menstrual cycle and does not come and go regularly. This type of pain is most commonly seen in post-menopausal women between 40 and 50 years old. The pain is usually described as a burning sensation or tightening of the breast area, which can be constant or intermittent.


Can All Breast Pain Be Cancerous?

The majority of breast cancers do not cause any pain in the breast or nipple area. Most often, women experience this pain or tenderness due to the menstrual cycle, which goes away with the end of the cycle. The signs of cancer may include a painless, hard mass with irregular borders.


What Is Early-Stage Breast Cancer?

There are different stages of breast cancer, ranging from stage 0 to stage 4. Stage 0 breast cancer (carcinoma in situ) is the initial stage of breast cancer. This means that cancer has not spread to other areas of the body. As the stage increases the severity of the cancer is increased and which also indicates it has metastasized to other locations also.


What Does Left Breast Pain Mean?

Pain in the left breast can occur for various reasons, including injury, hormone fluctuation, infection, or lung problems. Moreover, left breast pain can also be linked to the heart; therefore, it should not be ignored, and immediate medical assistance is needed.


What Hormones Are Responsible for Breast Pain?

The fluctuation in hormone levels is one of the reasons for breast pain. The rise in the levels of hormones such as estrogen and progesterone just before the period is one the prime reason for breast soreness. These hormones cause the breasts to swell and can cause tenderness. This gets normal as the menstrual cycle is over.


What Does Breast Cancer Looks Like?

The cancerous breast has a painless hard lump in the breast. This lump may be visible to the naked eye and felt with a self-breast exam. These areas of swelling under the armpit or breast or near the collarbone are indications of cancer and must be diagnosed immediately before spreading to other locations. 

Last reviewed at:
08 May 2023  -  5 min read




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