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Breast Pain - Types, Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis & Treatment


Breast Pain Overview


Breast pain (also known as mastalgia) is a medical condition that primarily affects women of all age groups. Due to it, affected individuals feel excruciating pain, tightness, or a burning sensation in the breast tissue. Mastalgia can also be the reason for tender breasts in some women. Apart from women, the condition can also affect transgender people or men.


The sharp pain in the breasts due to mastalgia can be either mild or severe. It can also be occasional or constant. The pain in the breasts can last for a few days or a week. In some cases, it may even last for a month.


While breast pain can be a sign of breast cancer, in most cases, it indicates a benign or non-cancerous breast condition. Normally, it lasts for one or a couple of menstrual cycles. However, a thorough evaluation is necessary if it persists for a longer duration.


Types of Breast Pain


Breast pain can be classified into the following categories:


  • Cyclic breast pain: It primarily affects women who belong to the age group of 20-50 years. It occurs in the menstrual cycle and follows a regular pattern (a week before the start of periods). It causes mild pain in the top or external part of either one or both breasts and goes away. Thereafter, it returns in the subsequent menstrual cycle. Some women may not experience this form of breast pain after their menopause.


  • Noncyclic breast pain: This type of breast pain has an erratic pattern. It does not relate to the menstrual cycle, and mostly, women who belong to the age group of 40-50 years, experience it. Typically, it occurs due to anatomical changes in body fat or an underlying breast problem.


  • Extramammary breast pain: This form of breast pain does not result from the breast tissue. It originates from another source and extends to the breast region.


Symptoms of Breast Pain


Breast pain may or may not follow a regular pattern. When it follows a regular pattern, it is called cyclic. It is called non-cyclic when it is constant or does not follow a regular pattern. Both cyclic and non-cyclic breast pain differ from each other in many ways. In line with it, individuals who are affected by it display distinct symptoms.


The common symptoms of cyclic breast pain include the following:

  • Heaviness of breasts
  • Sore, swollen, or tender breasts


Individuals affected by non-cyclic breast pain show the following symptoms:

  • A pain that is limited to a specific region in the breast
  • Acute or sharp pain in the breast
  • A stabbing or burning sensation in the breast


Those who have non-cyclic breast pain experience the aforementioned symptoms irregularly or without a fixed pattern.


Causes of Breast Pain


Oftentimes, the actual breast pain reason in women depends on the type of pain they have. If it is cyclic, it may result from a hormonal imbalance in the menstrual cycle.


The causes of noncyclic breast pain can be due to the following reasons:

  • Surgical scars
  • Large-sized breasts
  • Costochondritis
  • Fibroadenomas or the formation of benign lumps
  • Breast cysts
  • The excessive use of antidepressants
  • Radiation therapy
  • Hormone therapy
  • Infection
  • Pregnancy
  • The use of infertility medications or birth control pills


Apart from the aforementioned causes, non-cyclic breast pain in women can also be the consequence of the following:


  • Breastfeeding
  • Stress
  • Smoking
  • Excessive consumption of coffee


When Should You See Your Doctor?


If your breast pain is cyclic, it goes away within three weeks. Therefore, you do not need to visit your doctor for it. But if it persists and lasts for a longer duration, you must schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider for a check-up. 


Diagnosis of Breast Pain


Diagnosis of mastalgia is necessary to know its exact cause. It depends on the age of the female individual. Breast ultrasound and mammogram are the two common methods used for the diagnosis of breast cancer. Your doctor may recommend one of these methods depending on your age.


If you are below 40, your doctor will recommend an ultrasound. They will recommend a mammogram if you belong to a higher age group. Your doctor may recommend a biopsy if they detect any abnormality linked to your breast pain in the diagnosis phase. 


The critical aspects that your doctor will consider for the diagnosis of your breast pain include the following:

  • Your age
  • The type of mastalgia-related pain you have
  • Results of imaging tests (ultrasound or mammogram)
  • The duration between the previous and current imaging tests


Treatment of Breast Pain


In most cases, cyclic breast pain does not necessitate any treatment as it goes away on its own within three weeks. However, medications may be necessary if you have noncyclic breast pain. 


Your doctor may recommend support options such as wearing a sports bra. Wearing it alone relieves breast pain in 60% of the cases. Your doctor will prescribe medications if your pain doesn’t go away even after wearing a sports bra. Your doctor will take your age and other factors into consideration and prescribe medications accordingly. 


For effective breast pain management, healthcare professionals prescribe medications involving the following elements:

  • Diclofenac
  • Aspirin
  • Naproxen sodium
  • Ibuprofen
  • Acetaminophen
Dr. Niharika Roy
Cancer Care
Meet The Doctor
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