7 Common causes of breast pain

 Woman wearing a gray spaghetti strap checking her breast, Isolated on white, Concept of breast self-exam (BSE)

7 Common causes of breast pain

A feeling of pain or soreness in the breast can be an alarming experience. Thoughts of “could it be breast cancer,” often enter into many women’s minds. However, breast pain can mean several different things and is actually a common occurrence affecting up to 70% of all women - most common in women between the ages of 30 and 50 - at some point during their lives.  The location of breast pain can vary and the pain associated with it can range from very mild to severe.  Descriptions of breast pain are often reported as a feeling of tenderness, burning, sharp, or a tightening of the breast tissue.

Mastalgia is the formal name for breast pain. Causes of the majority of breast pain is often associated with changes in a woman’s body during her lifetime i.e., menstruation, pregnancy, lactation, or menopause.   Generally, most of the pain associated with these life events does not require medical treatment.  However, there can be situations when a woman should seek out intervention from her doctor depending the severity, location, and duration of the breast pain.

Here are 7 possible causes why a woman may experience breast pain:

1.  Fibrocystic breast changes – Fibrocystic breast condition is lumpiness in one or both breasts which can include breast tenderness and pain.  This is a very common but benign condition amongst women and is mainly due to the variation of hormones associated with the menstrual cycle being a primary contributing factor.  It primarily affects women between the ages of 30 and 50 and tends to resolve after menopause.  The main concern is that it can mimic breast cancer but women can discuss this with their doctor to educate themselves to learn the difference between the two. 

2.  Breast cysts – A cyst in the breast may feel like a lump but when examined it is a small, generally harmless sac filled with fluid.  The cyst may or may not cause pain.  They typically enlarge during the menstrual cycle and go away once menopause is reached.  However, anytime a woman discovers a lump, she should immediately contact her doctor to determine whether the lump is a cyst or tumor. 

3.  Mastitis – This is a condition causing breast tissue to become inflamed and painful and is most common in women who are breastfeeding, usually within the first three months after giving birth.  Usually only one breast is affected by mastitis with symptoms of a red, swollen area on the breast that may feel hot and painful to touch.  A woman may also have flu-like symptoms such as aches, a high temperature, chills, and tiredness.  Contact your doctor right away as it can be easily treated and most women will make a full recovery very quickly.

4.  Costochondritis – This painful condition is caused by inflammation of the cartilage of the ribs where the rib connects with the breastbone (sternum). Costochondritis is a type of arthritis and when it is inflamed, it does not cause pain within the breast itself, but to women the burning pain can be confused with actual breast pain.   

5.  Breast surgery – Women who go through breast surgery may have scar tissue from that can lead to breast pain.

6.  A poorly fitted bra – If a woman is wearing a bra that is too loose or too tight, this leaves the breast improperly supported which can lead to breast pain.  The majority of women are not wearing the right bra size – having a properly fitted bra is important to prevent unnecessary pressure on the shoulders that can lead to neck pain and headaches, skin irritation and even breathing issues.

7.  Breast cancer Breast cancer is rarely the cause of breast pain, only accounting for 1.2-6.7% of cases of this symptom.  It is possible some tumors may lead to discomfort and a woman should always contact her doctor if she has any of the following symptoms:

·      A lump or other area of concern in the breast

·      Pain or a lump that is not resolved following a period

·      Any nipple discharge – bloody, clear, or otherwise

·      Breast pain without a known cause or that does not go away

·      Thickening of the breast tissue

·      A nipple that retracts or turns inward

·      Unexplained redness, swelling, skin irritation, itchiness, or rash on the breast