As a breast cancer doctor one of the most common problems that I see in the office, believe it or not, is not breast cancer but breast pain.
This can actually be the bane of any breast surgeon’s practice because a)pain is so subjective, b)the reasons for breast pain are multifactorial and c)we may not be able to figure it out or fix it.
Breast pain is usually a result of a surge in the female hormones (estrogen and progesterone) that stimulate the breast and cause discomfort.
For this reason we see it most often around a woman’s menstrual cycle but it can also occur independent of the menstrual cycle. Therefore, we classify breast pain as either cyclical (related to the monthly cycles and more common in younger women) or non cyclical (unrelated to the cycle and more common in older women).
The most common reasons for breast pain are:
1- Hormonal. Related to changes in hormone levels during menstruation, pregnancy, breast feeding, while on birth control pills, hormone replacement drugs or fertility drugs. Some antidepressant medicines can also cause breast pain.
2- Caffeine sensitivity. We don’t know why but for some reason excessive caffeine (from coffee, tea, sodas or chocolate) can be associated with breast pain in some women.
3- Cysts. These are benign fluid filled lumps that develops when fluid accumulates in the breast glands. It can cause pain and tenderness as it enlarged. Changes in the monthly hormone levels may contribute to them.
4- Musculoskeletal. The pain starts deep in the chest wall or pectoral muscle and can mimic breast pain. It can arise from a pulled muscle from exercise or certain strenuous activity.
5- Fatty acid imbalance. These are found in certain foods and oils and can increase breast pain in some women by making the breasts more sensitive to the hormones.
6- Breast structure. Larger breasted women and those that don’t wear good supportive bras can have more breast pain than typical
7- Breast trauma. This can be from actual trauma to the breast or scar tissue from previous breast surgery or radiation therapy to the breast
8- Breast infections. This is also a common cause of breast pain.
Rarely is breast pain related to breast cancer. But pain can occur as a breast cancer grows from the pressure on surrounding tissue.
Quick things you can do at home to manage the pain:
-Stop or decrease caffeine intake
-Stop or decrease birth control and hormones(under your doctors direction)
-Consider switching to a low fat diet
-Pain medications like Tylenol or Ibuprofen may be helpful
-Wear a good supportive bra or a sports bra
-Try warm or cold compresses as tolerated
If you have breast pain that lasts more than 2 weeks, or through 2 menstrual cycles, please make sure you see your doctor or a breast specialist. We would want to examine you, get a mammogram and/or ultrasound of your breasts and then make some recommendations.
All of the information provided here is for educational purposes only and not meant to be a substitute for seeking care from your doctor.
I am happy to answer your questions
As always, Thanks for reading