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Manage Your Breast Pain

Understand and Treat Your Breast Pain

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Updated February 13, 2012

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

Breast pain (mastalgia) can occur in anyone with breast tissue -- including men! Women may start experiencing breast pain at puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, and even during menopause. Whether you have pain in both breasts or in one breast, there's no need to panic -- breast cancer seldom causes breast pain. Hormonal changes, weight gain, or benign anatomical changes within the breast may cause pain. Learn what type of pain you have and then use the right treatment to get relief.

Focus on the Details of Your Breast Pain

Painful Breast
Art © Sebastian Kaulitzki, Fotolia
Before you can get relief for your breast pain, take some time to figure out what may be causing it -- then match the treatment to the cause. Breast pain can be sorted into two major types: cyclical and non-cyclical. Cyclical breast pain fluctuates with your hormones, and is the most common type of breast pain. Non-cyclical breast pain is related to internal anatomical changes, such as injury, surgery, infections or growth of large cysts. Last of all, there is pain that occurs just below your breast in bones, muscles, or nerves. Pain beneath your breast can be just as worrisome as pain within your breast, so please know that all these pains can be properly diagnosed and treated.

Get Relief For Cyclical Breast Pain

Cyclical Breast Pain and Menstrual Cycle
Art © Pam Stephan
Women who are still having a menstrual cycle are likely to have cyclical breast pain –- in fact, about 70% of American women report having periodic breast pain. If you have this type of hormonal breast pain, there are many ways to get relief. Track your menstrual cycle and compare it to your breast pain levels. Bring this record to your breast pain appointment.

If swelling is causing pain, try a support or sports bra. Lose weight if you can, to take the load off your back and breasts. Eat a healthy diet and take your vitamins. Alternate hot and cold packs when pain peaks and won’t fade away. Take ibuprofen or aspirin, but swallow those with a non-caffeinated drink. Ask your doctor if you can take evening primrose oil or black cohosh. Lower your stress levels.

Home Treatments for Non-cyclical Breast Pain

Vitamin E
Photo © Karl D. Stephan
Pain that is not related to your hormonal cycle may occur in only one breast. It may be sharp or dull, but it will be in one specific area, sometimes called a trigger zone. Non-cyclical breast pain may be caused by an injury, surgery, or the growth of benign breast lumps. It may also be due to clogged milk ducts or infected tissues, and sometimes it is caused by tension and stress.

For bruises or surgical scars, try hot or cold packs, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or aspirin. If cysts or fibroadenomas seem to be the problem, ask your doctor whether you could take some evening primrose oil or vitamin E. Call your doctor if your nipples are infected or leaking and ask about antibiotics or other prescription medications. Got stress? Try a hot soak in the tub with lavender oil.

Professional Help For Pain Beneath Breasts

Just beneath your breasts are your chest wall muscles, rib cage, spine, heart and lungs. Aches and pains can come from inflammation of chest wall cartilage, arthritis in the breastbone, and bronchitis. Muscles in your back and chest may be strained and pull against bones, sometimes causing soreness or sharp pains. When these pains happen close to your breasts, it can be very hard to pinpoint their location. Try taking acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or aspirin for the pain, and if it does not respond, then call your doctor for a breast pain appointment. You may need antibiotics or further testing to diagnose and treat the cause of your pain.

Treating Breast Cancer Pain

Pills in bottles
Photo © Microsoft

When breast cancer does cause pain, it is rare. Most breast tumors themselves don’t create pain, but some of the treatments -– surgery, drugs, and radiation –- may cause pain. Be sure to let your doctor and nurses know when you have treatment-related pain, as this can be relieved so that you can continue to receive your cancer treatments.

In metastatic breast cancer, pain may be caused by cancer cells in bones, nerves, or organs. This can be relieved by targeted radiation. Your oncologist can prescribe a variety of drugs to help with metastatic cancer pain. Holistic therapies, such as acupuncture, aromatherapy, meditation, and guided imagery, may help alleviate pain also, without creating unwanted side effects.

Bottom Line:
No matter what kind of pain you’re having, discuss it with your health care team and get help. You don't always have to suffer!

Sources:

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

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