Breast pain: causes and treatments

Breast pain: causes and treatments

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.


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.

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.


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

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as diclofenac, may help with inflammation and pain.

Self-help remedies include:

  • Using a well-fitting support bra can help limit movement and reduce discomfort
  • Heating pads or ice packs can be applied
  • A warm bath may offer some relief
  • Massaging the breasts with massage oil or diluted essential oils. This may help remove excess fluid and help break down fibroadenomas
  • Over-the-counter analgesics
  • Painkillers can be applied topically, or to the skin, such as lotions and gels

Pregnant or breast-feeding women should not use painkilling lotions or gels.

Other interventions that may help include dietary changes and supplements.

Examples are:

  • Reducing caffeine and salt
  • A low-fat diet
  • Avoiding diary products

Limiting fat and dairy products may help because fat promotes the production of estrogen, which is associated with breast tenderness.

Supplements that may help include vitamin E, soy supplements, and chasteberry. Evening primrose oil has been found to help some women, but patients who regularly take anticonvulsants should not use this. It may not be safe during pregnancy or breast-feeding.

Experts have proposed fish oil and flax seed oil as good supplements for breast pain, but research has not confirmed their effectiveness.

Among women who experience cyclic breast pain, 42 percent find it stops when they reach menopause.

Prescription medications

Some prescription products are available for breast pain.

Hormonal preparations such as oral contraceptives, progesterone supplements, or hormone replacement therapy have been found to relieve breast pain in some women.

Some powerful drugs are available, but they may have severe adverse effects.

Drug therapy can have adverse effects, but wearing a comfortable, well-fitted bra may help.

Danazol: This is a modified testosterone that was originally used to treat endometriosis. Taken orally, it can be effective in reducing breast pain.

Possible adverse effects include weight gain, heavy periods, muscle cramps, and a deepening of the voice. Reducing the dose for 2 weeks before menstrual bleeding may reduce or prevent these side effects.

Bromocriptine: This is a dopamine agonist that has been found to reduce breast pain, heaviness, and tenderness.

It was previously used to inhibit lactation, but severe and potentially fatal side effects led the United States (U.S.) Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to remove its use for this purpose.

Gestrinone: This is taken orally and it can be effective in treating breast pain.

Adverse effects may include greasy skin, increased body hair, acne, bleeding between periods, changes in voice, lowering of libido, reduced breast size, fatigue, depression, and headaches.

Goserelin: This is given by injection to treat severe breast pain in patients who have not responded well to other therapies. It is a hormone treatment.

Goserelin can reduce the duration of breast pain during the menstrual cycle. Adverse effects may include hot flashes, lower libido, greasy skin and hair, reduced breast size, and vaginal dryness.

Surgical treatment

Most lumps associated with pain are benign. In rare cases, surgical treatment may be appropriate.

If a mammogram or ultrasound tests detect a breast lump, the doctor may order a biopsy. This will demonstrate whether the lump is malignant, or cancerous, or benign.

Benign breast lump: In most cases, the doctor will recommend watchful waiting rather than treating a benign lump.

Fibroadenoma: A doctor may sometimes surgically remove a fibroadenoma.

Breast cysts: Sometimes aspiration is used to take out the fluid. Aspiration involves sucking out the contents with a needle and syringe. Usually, the practitioner sends the fluid to the lab for analysis.

Most cysts are benign, but some lead to a higher chance of developing breast cancer. If the fluid returns after aspiration, it may need draining again.

Surgery is not normally used to treat breast pain.


Women who are prone to breast pain are advised to quit or avoid smoking and to wear a bra that fits well.

Before using any supplements, patients should speak to a doctor. Supplements are a kind of medication, and they can have adverse effects. The FDA do not always monitor supplements.

Any woman who is concerned about breast pain or any other type of breast change should see a doctor.

Causes Of Breast Pain - Causes And Symptoms Of Breast Pain (Video Medical And Professional 2020).

Section Issues On Medicine: Women health