Many women contend with breast tenderness and pain. It's common to have before your menstrual cycle. Clinically called mastalgia, breast pain usually isn't a sign of something serious, such as breast cancer. Even more good news: You don't have to live with it.
The causes of breast pain
Your breasts can change during your lifetime. For instance, they may become smaller after menopause. Fluctuations in estrogen and progesterone during your menstrual cycle, while pregnant, and as you age account for most of these changes.
Hormonal fluxes can also alter breast tissue. Some women may notice that one or both of their breasts become lumpy, swollen, and tender to the touch. These women may be diagnosed with fibrocystic breasts. That's when a woman's breasts essentially become more fibrous—because of a buildup of scar-like tissue. These women may also develop cysts, or fluid-filled sacs, in their breasts.
Fibrocystic breast changes can affect women of all ages. But they're more common in those who can still have children. Older women taking hormone therapy may also experience them.
Ways to ease breast pain
Breast pain can come and go. It can last for several days, weeks, or even months. Fortunately, you can take steps to ease the discomfort. Start by talking with your doctor. He or she can find out if your pain is related to fibrocystic changes.
Depending on the reason for your breast pain, your doctor may recommend you take an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as ibuprofen. If you have a painful cyst, draining it may help. Other strategies: Applying heat or ice to your breasts and wearing a well-fitted bra.
You may also want to try changing your diet. Avoiding caffeine from foods like chocolate, coffee, soda, and tea may relieve breast pain. So, too, may cutting out salt. A small study also found some women felt less discomfort after taking vitamin E or evening primrose oil. To avoid a dangerous interaction with other drugs you may be taking, always talk with your doctor first before considering such a supplement.
If you have severe breast pain, your doctor may prescribe oral contraceptives or another hormone-related medication. The drugs tamoxifen and danazol have been shown to ease breast pain. But these medications can have serious side effects. Be sure to talk with your doctor about all the benefits and risks.
Possible Signs of Breast Cancer
Pain isn’t usually a sign of breast cancer. But it can be a symptom of a rare form of breast cancer called inflammatory breast cancer. Talk with your doctor right away if you notice any of the following:
- Fluid coming from your nipple
- A lump that doesn’t go away after your period
- Constant breast pain with no known cause
- Red, swollen, or scaly breast skin
Based on your symptoms, your doctor may recommend a mammogram or biopsy to rule out breast cancer.
The experts at our Lurie Women's Imaging Center are available for screening and diagnostic mammograms as well as addressing additional breast concerns.