Health conditions

Breast pain

Many women will experience breast pain (also known as mastalgia) during their lives. Breast pain can vary from mild to severe. Some women experience an ache while others experience a stabbing sensation.

We often think pain is a sign that something is wrong and even serious, although this is rarely the case with breast pain. It is important to remember that breast pain alone is rarely an indication of breast cancer.

What causes breast pain?

Breast pain can have many causes:

  • hormonal changes
  • pregnancy
  • weight gain
  • bra problems
  • infection of the breast (mastitis)
  • injury to the breast (a breast injury will not cause breast cancer)
  • inflammation
  • some forms of hormone replacement therapy
  • simple breast cysts.

What are the different types of breast pain?

There are 2 types of breast pain.

Cyclic breast pain

This is the most common type of breast pain and is associated with your menstrual cycle. The pain is probably related to the sensitivity of your breast tissue to your changing hormones.

The pain often occurs 3-7 days prior to menstruation (your period). You may experience tenderness from the middle of your cycle when you ovulate until you menstruate 2 weeks later. The pain can also be different in each breast.

Cyclic breast pain is generally harmless but if you are concerned see your GP.

Non-cyclic breast pain

Non-cyclic breast pain is more common in older women. There are 2 types of non-cyclic breast pain:

  • The first type of pain may originate from the breast but is not related to your menstrual cycle. It is often described as a sharp or stabbing pain that is stays in one spot. It is more common in older women before and after menopause. If you have sudden breast pain that is confined to one spot, visit your GP.
  • The second type of pain may be felt around your breast but comes from somewhere else. This type of pain nearly always involves your bones, joints or muscles and is called musculoskeletal pain. Pain in the chest wall or spine may also cause discomfort in the breast. Arthritis or a pinched nerve in the neck may be the cause of this pain.

Hints to relieve breast pain

Here are some suggestions that may be worth trying:

  • Visit a person trained in fitting bras to make sure you are wearing the correct size and type of bra. Under-wire bras can also be uncomfortable for some women.
  • A correctly fitted bra will lessen the movement of your breasts on your chest wall. A well fitted, supportive bra is especially important if your breasts are fuller and if you participate in activities such as jogging or aerobics.
  • Wearing a soft bra at night may be helpful.
  • Keep a record of your breast pain for a few months to see if there is a pattern. Record the days you experience pain as well as the days you menstruated. Also record other details such as any changes in your diet and any stressful events. This information will help your GP obtain a clearer understanding of your breast pain.

If you have persistent breast pain it is advisable to talk to your GP.

Adapted with acknowledgement to BreastScreen Tasmania (external site).

More information

Visit BreastScreen WA (external site) to download or order a range of publications, including in languages other than English.

Where to get help                                 

  • See your doctor.
  • Ring healthdirect Australia on 1800 022 222.

Remember

  • Many women will experience breast pain during their lives.
  • Breast pain can vary from mild to severe.
  • Breast pain alone is rarely an indication of breast cancer.

Acknowledgements
Breast Screen WA | BreastScreen Tasmania

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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