Treatment and prevention of breast pain that occurs in women and men look at the symptoms, causes, risk factors, treatment, and prevention of breast pain. And the best time to see your doctor.
Breast pain (mastalgia) is tenderness, throbbing, sharp, stabbing, burning pain, or tightness in the breast tissue. The pain may be constant or it may occur only occasionally.
Breast Pain In Women
This can range from mild to severe. It may occur:
- Just a few days a month, in the two to three days leading up to a menstrual period.
- A week or longer each month, starting before a period and sometimes continuing through the menstrual cycle.
- Throughout the month, not related to a menstrual cycle.
Although most times breast pain is a noncancerous breast condition. Then again unexplained breast pain that doesn’t go away after one or two menstrual cycles. Or pain that persists after menopause, or doesn’t seem to be related to hormone changes should be checked.
True Facts About Breast Cancer
Breast Pain In Men
In men, breast pain is most commonly caused by a condition called “Gynecomastia” which can affect one or both breasts. Gynecomastia refers to an increase in the amount of breast gland tissue caused by an imbalance of the hormones estrogen and testosterone.
Breast pain can be cyclic or noncyclic.
Cyclic means that the pain occurs on a regular pattern and is described as dull, heavy, or aching.
Noncyclic means that the pain is tight, burning, stabbing, or aching sensation which is constant with no regular pattern.
Extramammary Breast Pain
Extramammary breast pain feels like it starts in the breast tissue, but its source is actually outside the breast area. For example, pulling a muscle in the chest can cause pain in the chest wall or rib cage that spreads to the breast.
Changing hormone levels can cause changes in the milk ducts or milk glands which can be painful and a common cause of cyclic breast pain. On the other hand, noncyclic breast pain may be caused by trauma, prior to breast surgery or other factors.
Sometimes, it’s not possible to identify the exact cause of breast pain, but some factors may increase the risk. For instance, treatment and prevention of breast pain shows that breast pain is more common among women who are yet to complete menopause, or after menopause. In men, breast pain occurs in those who have gynecomastia. Also, transgender people undergo gender reassignment.
Other factors that may increase the risk of breast pain include:
- Excessive caffeine use. Although more research is needed, some people notice an improvement in breast pain when they reduce or eliminate caffeine.
- Breast size. People who have large breasts may experience noncyclic breast pain related to the size of their breasts. Neck, shoulder, and back pain may accompany breast pain that’s caused by large breasts.
- Breast surgery. Breast pain associated with breast surgery and scar formation can sometimes linger after incisions have healed.
- Medication use. Certain hormonal medications, including some infertility treatments and oral birth control pills, may be associated with breast pain. Other medicines that can cause breast pain include those used to treat high blood pressure and some antibiotics.
When To See A Doctor
Make an appointment with your doctor if breast pain:
- Continues daily for more than a couple of weeks
- Occurs in one specific area of your breast
- Seems to be getting worse over time
- Interferes with daily activities
- Awakens you from sleep
Breast cancer risk is very low in people whose main symptom is breast pain, but if your doctor recommends an evaluation, it’s important to follow through.
Tests to evaluate your condition may include:
- Clinical breast exam. Your doctor checks for changes in your breasts, examining your breasts and the lymph nodes in your lower neck and underarm. Your doctor will likely listen to your heart and lungs and check your chest and abdomen to determine whether the pain could be related to another condition. If the breast physical exam and medical history reveal nothing unusual, you may not need additional tests.
- Mammogram. This is an X-ray exam of your breast that evaluates the area of concern found during the breast exam.
- Ultrasound. An ultrasound exam uses sound waves to produce images of your breasts, and it’s often done along with a mammogram.
- Breast biopsy. Suspicious breast lumps, areas of thickening, or unusual areas seen during imaging exams may require a biopsy before your doctor can make a diagnosis.
In the treatment and prevention of breast pain for many people, breast pain resolves on its own over time. Hence you may not need any treatment. But if you do need help managing your pain or if you need treatment, your doctor might recommend that you:
- Eliminate an underlying cause or aggravating factor such as wearing a bra with extra support.
- Use a topical nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) medication cream. Apply the cream directly to the area where you feel pain.
- Adjust birth control pills. Skipping the pill-free week or switching birth control methods may help breast pain symptoms. Talk with your doctor first.
- Reduce the dose of menopausal hormone therapy.
- Take prescription medication. Danazol is approved for treating fibrocystic breasts. However, Danazol carries the risk of potentially severe side effects. These include heart and liver problems, weight gain, and voice changes. Similarly, Tamoxifen, a prescription medication for breast cancer treatment and prevention, has side effects that may be more bothersome than the breast pain itself.
Vitamins and dietary supplements may lessen breast pain symptoms and severity for some people. Ask your doctor if one of these might help you and side effects:
- Evening primrose oil. This supplement may change the balance of fatty acids in your cells, which may reduce breast pain.
- Vitamin E. In one study, 200 international units (IU) of vitamin E taken twice daily for two months improved symptoms in women with cyclic breast pain. However, there was no additional benefit after four months. So if you don’t notice any improvement in your breast pain after a few months, stop taking the supplement.
The following steps may help prevent the causes of breast pain, although more research is needed to determine their effectiveness.
- Follow a low-fat diet and eat more complex carbohydrates
- Shun hormone therapy if possible.
- Avoid medications that are known to cause breast pain or make it worse.
- Wear a properly fitted bra, and wear a sports bra during exercise.
- Try relaxation therapy, which can help control the high levels of anxiety associated with severe breast pain.
- Limit or eliminate caffeine, a dietary change some people find helpful
- Evade excessive or prolonged lifting activities.
- Consider using an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as Tylenol, or ibuprofen.
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