Breast pain, also known as mastalgia, is a very common condition among women of all ages. Any kind of persistent pain in one or both breasts can be a cause of worry, making one wonder if there’s a possibility of breast cancer. Just to note, breast pain is not a common symptom of breast cancer.
Breast pain can include but is not limited to:
- Tenderness of the breasts
- Discomfort in the breast
- Soreness of the breasts
- Sharp pain in the breasts or the under arm
- Heaviness and tightness
Types of Breast Pain
There are three major types of breast pain.
1. Cyclical Breast Pain
This is the kind of pain that most women experience as part of their monthly menstrual cycle. It is linked to hormonal changes during your monthly cycle, and usually comes a week before the period starts. Also, it can be linked to contraception that contain hormones. Cyclical breast pain is characterized by tenderness, soreness, heaviness, prickling, burning and tightness of the breasts, among others. This type of breast pain can happen on one or both breasts, and it can spread from the armpits, arm, and up the shoulder blade.
Once the period starts, in most women the pain goes away by itself, but it can return. After menopause, the pain stops on its own, but if you are undergoing hormone replacement therapy, then the pain might still persist.
2. Non-cyclical Breast Pain
Non-cyclical breast pain is not linked to your monthly period, or hormones in that matter. In fact, it is still uncertain what leads to this kind of pain. Non-cyclical breast pain is unpredictable and can come and go at will, and it usually affects women before and after menopause. It can affect one or both breasts at a specific area or the whole breast. It is characterized by prickling, burning or stabbing pain.
Nevertheless, non-cyclical breast pain can be linked to:
- Having overly large breasts
- Previous breast surgery
- A non-cancerous breast condition
- A side effect of certain medications or treatments
- Stress and anxiety
- Injury to the breasts
In about half of the women who experience non-cyclical breast pain, it usually goes away by itself.
3. Chest Wall Pain
Pain on the chest wall, also known as extra-mammary, might feel as though it’s coming directly from the breasts, but in most cases, it’s coming from another part of the body. Chest wall pain is characterized by a sharp burning pain that may get worse when you move, or felt when pressure is applied to the area. It might also spread down the arm. The pain can be on in a specific area on one side of the chest, or it can take up a large area.
Some of the most common causes of chest wall pain include:
- Muscle pull in your chest
- Medical ailments like gallstones and angina
- Ribs’ inflammation, mostly caused by Tietze’s syndrome
Treating Breast Pain
Treatment options of both cyclical and non-cyclical breast pain are usually the same, although non-cyclical breast pain might be a bit challenging. Some of the most common treatments for breast pain include:
- Diet: High fiber, low fat, diet with minimal amounts of caffeine and alcohol
- Lifestyle changes: Wearing a well-fitting bra
- Changing your contraception method if it’s the cause of your breast pain
- Relaxation and complimentary therapies such as acupuncture
- Non-steroidal pain relief medications
- Hormone suppressing drug
When it comes to treating chest wall pain, the options depend on what is causing the pain. For instance, if it’s caused by a pulled muscle, chances are very high that it will improve over time. Rest and avoiding sudden movements might be recommended, in addition to pain relief medication such as ibuprofen.
Breast pain can easily send one into a panic mode, especially if they think they might have breast cancer. However, having pain in the breasts doesn’t increase the risk of breast cancer. At King’s College Hospital London Dubai, our Breast Care Clinic caters to every type of breast change. If you are facing any kind of breast pain, get in touch for a consultation with one of our breast doctors. For more information on breast cancer and breast care, book an appointment below.