Experiencing breast pain, known as ‘mastalgia,’ can be a distressing symptom that accounts for a significant portion of breast-related concerns. However, before jumping to alarming conclusions, such as breast cancer, it is important to understand the facts.
If you’re currently dealing with pain, tenderness, or heightened sensitivity in one or both breasts, it’s natural to feel frightened and assume the worst. However, let’s clarify a few key points upfront: breast pain alone is typically not an indication of breast cancer. In fact, experts suggest that other factors are more likely to be the cause of your tender or achy breasts.
To shed light on the matter, we’ve compiled five common reasons why you may be experiencing breast pain or increased sensitivity. Understanding these potential causes can help ease your concerns and provide a clearer perspective on your symptoms
Mastitis is a condition characterized by an infection in the breast tissue, which results in inflammation. This inflammation causes abnormal swelling and redness of the breasts.
Typically, mastitis occurs in nursing mothers due to an infection in the breast ducts. During breastfeeding, bacteria from the baby’s mouth can enter a woman’s breasts through her nipple.
In addition to breast pain, mastitis can cause other symptoms, including:
- General discomfort in the breasts.
- Fever of 38.3°C (101°F) or higher.
- Chills, fatigue, or a feeling of malaise.
- Warm or red skin on the breast.
- Nipple discharge or the presence of pus is also common.
If mastitis is left untreated, it can lead to the formation of an abscess. Once diagnosed, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to alleviate pain, swelling, and fever.
Discovering a lump in your breast can be a terrifying experience. However, it’s important to know that not all tumors and lumps are cancerous. One type of noncancerous tumor known as a fibroma (4) falls into this category. Fibromas are typically found in women under the age of 30.
These tumors are usually small in size but have a distinct texture that sets them apart from the surrounding breast tissue. They have well-defined boundaries and can be moved under the skin. When touched, they feel similar to small marbles and may have a rubbery consistency (5).
Although the exact cause of fibromas is not fully understood, it is believed that the hormone estrogen plays a role in their development. Additionally, the use of oral contraceptives in women under 20 years of age has been associated with a higher risk of fibroma development (6).
Fibromas can grow, particularly during pregnancy, but they often tend to shrink after menopause. In some cases, fibromas may resolve on their own without intervention. However, larger fibromas may require surgical removal.
A cyst in the breast may give the sensation of a lump, but it is actually a small sac filled with fluid, rather than cancerous or noncancerous cells (7). These cysts can be present in one or both breasts and may exhibit the following signs and symptoms:
- Breast tenderness or pain in the area of the breast cyst.
- Nipple discharge can range from clear to straw-colored or even dark brown.
- A lump that feels smooth, easily movable, and has distinct boundaries, indicating its benign nature.
- Changes in breast tenderness and the size of the lump during your menstrual cycle (8).
Simple breast cysts, which are fluid-filled, can typically be confirmed through ultrasound and often do not require treatment. However, if your symptoms are severe, your doctor may prescribe birth control or hormonal therapy. Surgical intervention is recommended only in rare cases.
The most common cause of mastalgia, or breast pain, is cyclic breast pain, which is characterized by pain that comes and goes with monthly periods. This type of pain is part of a cluster of symptoms known as premenstrual syndrome (PMS) (9).
Cyclic breast pain is typically a result of normal hormonal fluctuations that occur in women on a monthly basis. The pain is commonly experienced in both breasts. The enlargement of breast ducts caused by estrogen and the swelling of milk glands caused by progesterone contribute to the tenderness of the breasts. Women who experience breast pain related to their menstrual cycle often describe it as soreness or heaviness that can radiate to the arm and armpit.
This type of pain is usually most intense just before a woman’s menstrual period and tends to subside once the period begins. It is more commonly seen in younger women and typically diminishes around the time of menopause.
Your diet may be a potential factor contributing to your breast pain. Certain foods that are high in sodium, caffeine, or fat content can be culprits (11).
Here are some foods to be mindful of:
- Peanuts, walnuts, almonds, and other dried foods
- Black tea, green tea, soda, and other caffeinated beverages
- Processed condiments or sauces
- Salted fries or popcorn
- Red meat and sausages
If you have already made an effort to limit the consumption of the aforementioned foods but your breast pain persists, it is advisable to seek a medical examination promptly.
Additionally, if you are experiencing frequent or severe breast pain or if there have been changes in an existing breast lump, it is crucial to consult a doctor without delay. Prioritizing your health is essential.