Breast pain, while it may be alarming, is a relatively common medical issue for women. It can have several causes, though most notably, one of those causes is unlikely to be breast cancer. Breast pain can be generally classified as cyclic, i.e. associated with the menstrual cycle, or non-cyclic.
Cyclic pain is the most common and is usually described as dull, heavy or aching. It is often accompanied by breast swelling and lumpiness and affects the upper, outer portions of the breast, spreading to the underarm. The symptoms intensify in the two weeks leading up to the start of the menstrual cycle and then ease up afterward. Women who experience this pain are usually pre- or perimenopausal.
Non-cyclic pain is unrelated to the menstrual cycle and is usually described as being a tight and burning or sore. It may be constant or intermittent, but usually only affects one breast in a localized area. This type of pain is much more common in postmenopausal women. Fortunately, cyclic pain is usually normal. It may be due to hormonal changes associated with menstruation, menopause, pregnancy, puberty or medications such as contraceptives and antidepressants. Non-cyclic breast pain may be due to a benign lump, cyst, fatty acid imbalance or trauma. There is also a chance that pain originates outside of the breast, such as a pulled muscle or rib issue. Pain relievers, ice packs and warm compresses can help manage the symptoms associated with normal breast pain that eventually resolves itself.
Call your medical provider if you experience the following: bloody or clear discharge from the nipple; swollen or hard breasts within a week of giving birth; a new lump with pain that does not go away after your period; persistent, unexplained pain; or signs of breast infection: redness, pus or fever. Your doctor will conduct a breast examination and may perform a mammogram or ultrasound to determine the cause of your symptoms and advise a course of treatment.