Breast pain is a common symptom, but pain without a mass is almost never associated with breast cancer.
Types of Breast Pain
There are two types of breast pain: cyclic and noncyclic.
- Cyclic breast pain is the most common type of breast pain and is caused by monthly changes in hormone levels. Most often this pain is described as a dull, sore, or heavy feeling in both breasts that can radiate to the armpit. Cyclic breast pain is worse at the time of a woman’s period and disappears when the period ends.
- Noncyclic breast pain occurs intermittently or continuously. It is not associated with the menstrual cycle and may occur in one or both breasts. Noncyclic breast pain is described as a tight, burning pain that may be felt in one area of the breast or throughout the breast. This type of breast pain is more common in postmenopausal women.
Breast Pain Evaluation
To properly identify the cause of breast pain, the American College of Radiology recommends the following imaging tests for women with focal noncyclic breast pain without a mass:
- Women under the age of 30 should have a targeted sonogram of the area of pain.
- Women over the age of 30 should have a diagnostic mammogram with targeted sonogram (if she has not had a mammogram within six months of the pain first presenting)
Non-breast related causes may cause pain that is perceived as breast pain but is in fact caused from something unrelated to the breasts. For example, a muscle pull or strain in the rib cage or chest wall may cause pain that radiates to the breast. Having a comprehensive medical history and physical examination performed by your clinician can help identify the source of your pain.
Treating Breast Pain
Benign breast cysts are the most common cause of breast pain and may require drainage to alleviate symptoms.
Cyclic breast pain may be alleviated by:
- Reducing salt and fat intake in your diet
- Trying an over-the-counter pain reliever such as aspirin, Tylenol or ibuprofen
- A trial of low dose oral contraceptives prescribed by your clinician
- Taking a magnesium supplement as recommended by your clinician
- Wearing a supportive bra
Noncyclic breast pain is most often helped by:
- Reduction in caffeine intake (chocolate, coffee, cola, tea)
- Taking vitamin E (400 – 800 IU-daily)
- Taking B complex vitamins (50 – 100 mg B6 daily; 50 – 100 mcg B12 daily; 400 mcg folic acid daily)
- Evening primrose (1000 – 3000 mg daily) may be added if the first three suggestions do not provide relief
- Wearing a soft bra may be helpful for nighttime pain and a supportive bra during the day
- Taking Tylenol and/or anti-inflammatory agents may provide temporary relief
- Prescription medications for those who experience severe symptoms