Breast pain is the most common breast-related complaint among women, with 70 percent of women experiencing pain at some point in their lives. For many women it represents little more than a monthly nuisance. For other women, however, the pain can be more intense, making a hug or a touch unbearable. This sort of pain causes both physical and emotional distress. These women often wonder if something is wrong with their breasts, such as cancer. Usually there is no cause for alarm, but careful evaluation is recommended if the pain is new, increasing or disabling.
If your pain is interfering with your daily activities or if the pain is new or has worsened, consult with a breast-health specialist. An appointment with a physician can be scheduled for you at one of the Swedish Breast Centers. For an appointment, call the center nearest you. Locations and Hours
Breast pain falls into three categories:
The most common type of cyclic pain is the kind that varies with the menstrual cycle. This pain is related to changes in hormone levels in pre-menopausal woman and usually intensifies in the week or so before the onset of menses. Usually the pain is mild, located in the upper outer portions of the breast, and predictable month to month. But sometimes the pain is quite severe. Women experiencing cyclic pain often worry that it might indicate cancer. A careful evaluation of the breasts with a physical exam and a mammogram, if the woman is over 35 years of age, can usually reveal if the pain is related to cancer. Reassurance alone helps women cope with their discomfort. Other measures such as ibuprofen and a well-fitted bra may also be helpful.
For a small number of women, however, breast pain interferes with their lives. These women should see a breast-health specialist for advice on their treatment options. Since the pain seems to change with the menstrual cycle, the most effective medications change the hormone balance. Danazol, bromocriptine and tamoxifen can all be helpful but must be used under the guidance of a physician. Birth control pills can also relieve discomfort in some young women.
Noncyclic or Trigger-Zone Pain
A much less common cause of pain is noncyclic or trigger-zone pain. This pain is almost always in the same part of the breast and does not appear to be influenced by changes in the body hormone levels. Several benign conditions of the breast, such as ductal ectasia (inflammation around the dilated duct) or large cysts, can cause discomfort. Injury to the breast from a blow, a biopsy or an old infection can leave a painful "memory." Sometimes surgical removal of the painful area can provide relief. Rarely, localized pain can be sign of cancer. Again, a complete exam of your breasts is important.
Non-breast pain may be related to body structures beneath the breast. Arthritis of the ribs or where the ribs meet the breastbone, called costochondritis, can appear as breast pain. Sometimes a problem in the lungs or heart can be felt as pain in the breast. Another cause could be a pinched nerve in your neck. These are all important conditions that your physician can evaluate for you.