Breast Pain Definition, Symptoms, Causes, Treatments

What to Do When Your Breasts Hurt

Breast pain - also called mastalgia - can happen to anyone with breast tissue. Whether your pain feels sharp, dull, aching or shooting, breast pain is always unwelcome. Sometimes your breast pain is constant, other times it varies with your menstrual cycle. Aching, tender, painful breasts are common among young, premenopausal women. But breast pain can occur at any age.

Breast cancer rarely causes breast pain - most breast lumps and tenderness have benign causes. Only 5% of breast tumors will cause breast pain in early-stage cancer.

Learn to recognize the symptoms of breast pain and understand what causes your breasts to hurt. If you make an appointment to see a doctor about breast pain, prepare carefully. Know which tests may be required to get a diagnosis of the trouble, as well as which treatments can bring you relief. For many of us, painful breasts can be soothed with easy home remedies. Don't despair - you can get plenty of help for breast pain!​

Breast Pain Symptoms

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Breast pain can vary greatly, depending on your age, menstrual status and lifestyle. You may have sharp pain, aching, swelling, tenderness, and lumpiness in your breasts. Breast pain may be only on one side or in both breasts. If you have a nursing baby, you may get sore nipples during breastfeeding or you may have a variety of common problems.

Almost Breast Pain

Breasts are so integrated with our bodies that when pain strikes beneath the breast or very close to it, you can have a hard time locating the pain. Extramammary breast pain can be as simple as a pulled muscle, bruised rib or arthritis.

Male Breast Pain

Men's breasts develop differently than women's breasts, but even with less tissue, they may also have breast pain. Male breast pain may be related to injuries, genetic conditions or –- rarely -- breast cancer - but there are treatments available to help with the pain.

Causes of Painful Breasts

Most doctors divide breast pain into two types: cyclical and noncyclical.


During your fertile years, you may have menstrual pain as well as breast pain linked to your period. Birth control pills may be given to regulate your period and relieve your breast pain. You might use the combination oral contraceptive pill or the progestin-only pills - both of these drugs change your hormone patterns and may relieve your breast pain.


In menopause, you may feel trigger-zone pain. Noncyclical breast pain is felt in a specific area of your breast. This type of breast pain can be triggered by illness or injury, weight gain, breast surgery or the wrong size bra.

Prepare for a Breast Pain Appointment

Whenever you have breast pain, a persistent lump or have a rash on your breast that won't respond to home treatments, it's always good to have a doctor check it out. But there are so many different doctors - how do you know which one to consult? It depends on your situation and whether or not you have ever been diagnosed with breast cancer. I have some good guidelines on picking the right person to consult.

Before you head out to your breast pain appointment, line up some facts about your recent health history and write those down. Describe your pain as accurately as you can: location, intensity, duration, lumpiness and any nipple discharge. Don't make the doctor play a guessing game. State your pain problem clearly, and you will get relief more quickly.

Tests and Diagnosis

The best way for your doctor to get a clear diagnosis and make a treatment plan is to start by doing a clinical breast exam and running some tests. If your manual exam doesn't reveal the cause of your breast pain, then you may need a diagnostic mammogram or an ultrasound.

When your nipple is leaking, and it isn't obviously breast milk, you can expect to have a galactogram, which collects enough fluid for testing. If there is still no conclusive diagnosis, then a biopsy may be ordered to get a tissue sample for the pathology lab. Be sure to go to your follow-up appointments to learn about your diagnosis and get proper treatment.

Treatments to Calm Painful Breasts

Some types of breast pain may be soothed with simple home remedies. First, figure out where the pain is actually located and what type of breast pain it may be. Cyclical and noncyclical breast pain will require different kinds of treatment. There are many non-prescription and easy home remedies you can use to reduce your breast pain.

For pain that persists or seems related to a breast lump, infection, bones or muscles, go see a doctor for professional help. You may need antibiotics - some of which are very specific - to clear up the problem.

In rare cases when a breast tumor causes pain or breast cancer treatments create pain, you should tell your health care team about this. Breast cancer pain can be treated. Even if you have metastatic breast cancer, the pain may be successfully alleviated by proper therapies.

Don't sit and suffer - speak up and get help!


Breast Pain. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. National Institutes of Health. Last Updated: 11/4/2014.

The Evaluation of Common Breast Problems. ​Monica Morrow, M.D. American Academy of Family Physicians. American Family Physicians. April 15, 2000.​

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