Breast pain, also known as mastalgia, is commonly experienced by women due to various factors. In most cases, the symptom is characterized by an intermittent or constant, dull or sharp pain that is experienced in one or both the breasts due to menstruation. When classifying the most common types of breast pain a woman can experience, there are two categories:
- Cyclic breast pain: This type of breast pain is associated with a woman's monthly periods due to a change in hormones. The pain can be described as a dull, aching soreness that typically reaches all the way to the armpits and even the arm itself. The pain usually becomes more severe as a woman approaches her period, then slowly subsides once the period is over. Cyclic breast pain usually affects younger women and disappears with menopause.
- Noncyclic breast pain: This type of breast pain is used to classify any symptoms of breast pain that are unrelated to the menstrual cycle. It will commonly occur in only one breast, and is more of a sharp, burning pain than cyclic breast pain. This type of pain is common amongst postmenopausal women. Factors that may cause noncyclic breast pain include breast cysts, fibroadenoma (non -cancerous tumor of a gland found in the breasts), direct trauma to the breasts and any form of breast surgery.
Is Breast Pain An Indication Of Breast Cancer?
For many women, pain in the breasts, whether it is cyclic or noncyclic is common cause for concern due to a fear of developing breast cancer. According to the. In most cases, breast pain is not an early indicator of breast cancer. However, pain in breast is one of the first symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer, a rare form of breast cancer. For inflammatory breast cancer, no lump is present during a physical exam and indications of breast cancer can remain undetected by a screening mammogram. Symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer include:
- Pain, aching and tenderness in the breast
- A rapid change in the appearance of the affected breast
- One of the breasts becomes abnormally larger than the other
- The affected breast changes color to red, purple or pink, making it appear bruised
- Dimpling of the breast
- The nipple of the affected breast can become flat or inverted
- Lymph nodes below the arm and around the collarbone become enlarged
If breast pain is accompanied by any of the symptoms above, notify your doctor immediately. While inflammatory breast cancer is often confused with a breast infection, alert your doctor if symptoms persist after being treated for a breast infection. It is always best to err on the side of caution and notify your doctor if you suspect the pain in your breast is a possible sign of inflammatory breast cancer.
Other Causes Of Breast Pain
Here is a list of other factors that may cause symptoms of breast pain:
- Puberty (in this case, boys can also experience breast pain as well)
- Nursing (a woman's breasts may swell after childbirth, which can cause breast pain. A woman might also experience pain due to breastfeeding.)
- Imbalance of fatty acids
- Medications that affect the hormones
- Pain due to large breast size
- Birth control pills
- Shingles (if the breasts are a part of the affected area)
Treatment For Breast Pain Symptoms
Various forms of home treatment are available for dealing with breast pain. Such home treatments include:
- Nonsteriodal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- Acetaminophen in the form of Tylenol
- Ice packs or heat packs applied to the affected area
- A comfortable bra that provides proper support
- Medication prescribed by your doctor
- Changing your dosage in hormonal medication
A reduction in dietary fat of up to 15 percent or less of a woman's regular intake can help reduce breast pain symptoms over time. Magnesium intake, through food or supplements, during the menstrual cycle can also help alleviate breast pain. While further studies are needed, reducing chocolate and caffeine intake can possibly help with breast pain symptoms.
Consult your physician prior to taking any form of over-the-counter medication, or making any changes to your diet to help treat breast pain symptoms. Your physician can help you outweigh the side effects or risks, and can also prescribe medication used to treat breast pain.
Preventing Breast Pain
The main method of breast pain prevention recommended by the National Institutes of Health is to wear the appropriate size bra. It is important to ensure proper fitment to alleviate any pain, and to switch bra sizes when appropriate during breast development. A sports bra worn during exercise or physical activity can also help reduce soreness.