Any time you have breast pain, feel a persistent lump, or have a skin rash that won't respond to creams or lotions, it's always good to have a doctor check it out. Before your appointment, pick the right doctor, make a list of symptoms and questions, and be ready to undergo some testing. Here's how you can prepare for a breast pain appointment.
Choose The Right Doctor For You
If you have never been diagnosed with breast cancer, start with your general practitioner. If you need further evaluation, this doctor can refer you to a specialist. Perhaps you are pregnant or have recently had a baby -- in your case, it would be best to visit your obstetrician/gynecologist. Breast changes due to pregnancy or breastfeeding may be treated to give you quick relief.
For those of us who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, it is best to set a date with the oncologist and get a clear picture of what's up with your health. In any case, don't delay long -- choose a doctor and get a checkup. If your breast pain is due to minor causes, you'll be relieved, and if it is due to serious causes, you can start treatment.
Prepare Your Story
Once you have an appointment set up, get your act together so you can use the time with your doctor efficiently. Bring your health notebook with your medical history. Have a record of your menstrual cycle, if you are premenopausal. Note the date of your most recent mammogram. Write up a list of all your current medications and supplements, along with dosages. While you're at it, make a list of your present stressors, including family events, professional concerns, recent illnesses or injuries.
Get Specific About Your Pain
Your doctor can't diagnose the cause of your breast pain unless you can be clear about how it feels. Remember, only you know how much and where the pain is occurring. I find that it helps to write down some details, and print up a list. Try this list as an outline:
- Pain is located in one or both breasts, or in armpits
- It hurts constantly, periodically, or occasionally
- Type of pain: sharp, dull, stabbing, cyclical, noncyclical
- This pain has been around for days, weeks, or months
- On a scale of 1 - 10, this pain rates as (pick a number)
- A breast lump is associated with this pain
- The skin has changed: feels thick, has a rash, discoloration, or swelling
- Nipple has developed discharge or changed shape
Be Ready For Testing
You can expect to have a clinical breast exam during a breast pain appointment. If you've kept up on your monthly breast self-exams, be sure to show your doctor where you have noticed pain or changes in your breast that concern you. A manual exam may not reveal the exact cause of your pain, so don't be alarmed if you are referred for a mammogram or an ultrasound. If your nipple has discharge, then you may be sent for a galactogram, so a sample of the fluid can be examined. When none of those tests are conclusive, a biopsy may be scheduled, to rule out breast cancer or confirm a benign breast lump. It is important to keep these follow-up appointments, so you can get the proper diagnosis and treatment for your breast pain.
Breast Pain. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. National Institutes of Health. Last Updated: 12/31/2008.
The Evaluation of Common Breast Problems. Monica Morrow, M.D. American Academy of Family Physicians. American Family Physicians. April 15, 2000.