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Left Breast Pain

Causes, Statistics, and Self Help For Left Breast Pain

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Updated May 16, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

When there's a pain in your left breast, you may instantly think of breast cancer, a severe infection, or a heart attack. Any kind of breast pain can cause panic, but left breast pain may seem more worrisome, because it is so close to your heart. It's rare that breast pain is a symptom of undiagnosed breast cancer, no matter which breast the pain targets.

About Left Breast Pain

It may come as a sharp pain, a burning, throbbing, or aching sensation within, or beneath, your left breast. Left breast pain is usually unrelated to your menstrual cycle. This kind of pain may be fleeting, it may be come and go, or it may last for days. Hormonal breast pain will affect both breasts, so if you have pain in your breast only, you know that this kind of pain is noncyclical.

Possible Causes of Left Breast Pain

Your breasts are draped in sensitive, elastic skin that protects nerves, blood vessels and connective tissues, as well as ducts and lobes for producing breast milk. If you've had a breast injury, you can expect bruising and an ache that will persist until the skin and underlying tissues have healed. After any type of breast surgery - augmentation, reduction, or reconstruction - your breast will hurt as incisions heal and scar tissue develops. Be sure to ask your surgeon for tips for dealing with the pain and scar care.

Several benign but painful conditions can develop inside your breast milk system. An abscess may occur under your nipple or areola, milk ducts can become clogged and infected, causing mastitis or ductal ectasia. Breast cysts and fibroadenomas may grow and crowd your milk system or connective tissue, creating aches and pains.

Pain Beneath Left Breast

Sometimes when pain happens, it is hard to tell exactly what hurts and where the pain is centered. When pain hits you on the left side of your chest, you may think it is left breast pain, but the pain may actually be beneath your left breast. Below your breast there are chest wall muscles that may spasm during times of anxiety and stress, causing pain that may last just a few seconds or several days. Pain from tense chest wall muscles can occur on the left side only, or on the right. Likewise, if you have a pulled chest muscle or an injury to the left chest, aches and pains may result.

Your heart is beneath your left breast, and if you have coronary heart disease, the sensation of pressure, squeezing, or heartburn of angina may cause you distress. And speaking of heartburn, since your esophagus runs below your left breast, gastroesophageal reflux disease - GERD - can occasionally feel like left breast pain. A related condition, hiatal hernia, may cause similar symptoms.

If what feels like left breast pain is actually in your bones, then costochondritis in your sternum (breastbone) can cause pain on the right or left chest when cartilage and bones become inflamed. Fibromyalgia may also cause pain anywhere in your body, and chest pain is not uncommon. Fibromyalgia can affect muscles, joints and connective tissues, creating overall pain or focused pain. Fibrocystic breast changes are common in women with fibromyalgia.

While we're talking about fibromyalgia, many women with that condition may also have hypothyroidism, a thyroid imbalance. When hormone levels change - during your menstrual cycle, or drop during menopause, the change in amounts of estrogen, progesterone, and thyroid can cause breast tenderness. Synthroid - a drug used to treat hypothyroidism, can sometimes cause chest pain during the first few weeks of use. Hypothyroidism has an upside however - it appears to reduce your risk of developing invasive breast cancer by about 60 percent.

Left Breast Cancer

The Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) study collected data from 250,000 women and men who were diagnosed with breast cancer. Between the years 1973-92, SEER researchers found that about five percent more of all breast cancers start in the left breast of female patients. Male breast cancer patients had an even chance of developing cancer in either breast. Nevertheless, when you do your monthly breast self-exam, don't focus on your left breast alone, but be sure to give equal attention to right and left breasts. Stay current with your breast screenings and annual physical exams. Breast cancer doesn't usually cause any breast pain, but in a few cases it may do so.

Help For Left Breast Pain

You can try some home treatment for breast pain, to get relief from the anxiety and distress it can cause. Try hot or cold packs, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, aspirin, or Vitamin E to reduce or resolve your left breast pain. If you're stressed or strained, try avoiding caffeine and salt until you feel better. When you suspect breast infections or inflammation, visit your family doctor or gynecologist. You may need to take antibiotics or other prescription medications to clear up the problem. Finally, whenever you find breast lumps or bumps that are not related to your menstrual cycle, consult with your family doctor for a clinical breast exam to get a clear diagnosis and proper treatment.

Sources:

Breast Pain; Pp. 77-85. Dr. Susan Love's Breast Book. Susan M. Love, M.D. Fifth Edition, 2010.

Breast Pain. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. National Institutes of Health. Last Updated: 12/31/2008.

Cancer and laterality: a study of the five major paired organs (UK). Roychoudhuri R, Putcha V, Møller H. Cancer Causes Control. 2006 Jun;17(5):655-62.

Laterality of breast cancer in the United States. Weiss HA, Devesa SS, Brinton LA. Cancer Causes Control. 1996 Sep;7(5):539-43.

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