Breast pain has numerous causes, from hormone fluctuations to injuries in nearby muscle groups. It is usually not a sign of breast cancer.
Breast pain can affect the chest area and surrounding muscles.
Breasts develop during puberty due to an increase in estrogen. While breasts typically do not hurt, occasional breast pain, also called mastalgia, can be common for various reasons. These may include:
- hormone fluctuations during the menstrual cycle that cause changes in breast tissue
- gynecomastia, which is when a medication or hormonal imbalance increases breast gland tissue and can cause pain for all genders
- hormone replacement therapy
- chest binding/top surgery
Breast pain can be cyclical or noncyclical.
Cyclical pain is associated with your menstrual cycle. This pain typically subsides during or after your period.
Noncyclical pain is less common, and its causes can be numerous and harder to identify. Sometimes noncyclical breast pain can come from a breast injury or the surrounding muscles and tissue rather than the breast itself.
Breast pain can vary in intensity from mild tingling and tenderness to sharp pain or breasts that feel fuller than usual.
Learn what causes breast pain, how to reduce it, and when to see a doctor.
When its an emergency
If your breast pain is sudden and accompanied by chest pain, tingling, or numbness in your extremities, seek immediate medical attention or call 911 or your local emergency services. These symptoms may be signs of a heart attack.
Breast pain has numerous causes. Two of the most common include hormone fluctuations and fibrocystic (lumpy) breasts.
Hormones fluctuate during the menstrual cycle or other times of changing hormone levels, such as menopause or while taking hormone replacement therapy. Estrogen and progesterone fluctuations can cause breasts to feel swollen, lumpy, and sometimes painful.
The pain may occur during times of other hormone changes, such as during premenopause, perimenopause, and postmenopause.
The pain may decrease with menopause, but it can also linger into menopause for people who use oral contraception or estrogen replacement during perimenopause and menopause.
If hormone fluctuations related to your menstrual cycle are causing your breast pain, you may notice the pain worsening 2 to 3 days before your period. Sometimes the pain will continue throughout your menstrual cycle.
To determine whether your breast pain follows your menstrual cycle, keep a log of your periods and note when you experience pain throughout the month. A pattern may emerge after a few cycles.
Developmental stages that affect the menstrual cycle and may cause breast pain include:
As you age, breasts experience involution, which is when fat replaces the breast tissue. This can cause cysts and more fibrous tissue to develop, known as fibrocystic breast tissue.
While fibrocystic breasts don’t always hurt, they can. It’s usually not a cause for concern.
Fibrocystic breasts can feel lumpy and tender, usually in the upper and outer portions of the breasts. The lumps can also enlarge during your menstrual cycle.
If you notice lumps in your breasts, a doctor can perform tests to determine the cause.
Numerous reasons can cause pain while breastfeeding. These can include:
It can also cause additional symptoms. These may include:
- other flu-like symptoms
Doctors can treat mastitis with antibiotics.
You can relieve the pain or discomfort by:
- breastfeeding your baby
- manually expressing your milk
To manually express milk, place your thumb on top of your breast and your fingers underneath. Slowly roll your fingers back against your chest wall and forward toward your nipples to empty your breast.
If your baby isn’t correctly latching to your nipple, you will likely experience breast pain.
A lactation consultant can help you establish a proper latch.
Breastfeeding should not hurt. See a doctor or lactation specialist if you are having difficulty breastfeeding. You can visit La Leche League International to find a certified lactation consultant in your area.
Breast pain can have other causes, including:
Sometimes breast pain occurs because of irritation in the chest, arm, or back muscles.
Examples of activities that use those muscle groups include:
Wearing a bra with insufficient support can cause neck and shoulder discomfort.
You may need to replace a bra if the shoulder straps no longer support you or the cups are gaping or too tight. You may also find that wearing the right type of bra for your bust may help reduce pain.
If you’ve had breast surgery, pain from scar tissue can linger after your incisions have healed.
Certain medications can contribute to breast pain. These may include:
While you shouldn’t stop these medications if you have breast pain, you can ask a doctor if alternative options are available.
Smoking increases epinephrine levels in the breast tissue, which can cause breast pain.
Breast pain is not typically associated with breast cancer. In
Breast pain or fibrocystic breasts does not mean you have a higher risk of developing cancer. However, lumpy tissue may make it harder to see tumors on a mammogram.
Contact a doctor if you have consistent pain in one area of your breast. A doctor can use the following diagnostic tests to determine if your breast pain is related to cancer:
- Mammogram: Doctors use this imaging test to identify abnormalities in breast tissue.
- Ultrasound: An ultrasound is a scan that penetrates the breast tissue without exposing you to radiation. Doctors can use it to identify lumps.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): An MRI creates detailed images of breast tissue to identify potentially cancerous lesions.
- Biopsy: A biopsy removes breast tissue so a doctor can examine it for cancerous cells.
Treatment will depend on whether you have cyclical or noncyclical breast pain. Before recommending treatment, a doctor will consider your age, medical history, and the pain’s severity.
Treatment for cyclical pain may include:
- wearing a supportive bra
- reducing your sodium and caffeine intake
- taking oral contraceptives, which can even out your hormone levels
- taking estrogen blockers, such as tamoxifen (Nolvadex)
- taking pain medications, including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) medications like ibuprofen (Advil)
Treatment for noncyclical pain will depend on the cause.
Always talk with a doctor before taking any supplements to ensure they won’t interfere with your medications or other health conditions.
If your breast pain is sudden and accompanied by chest pain, tingling, or numbness in your extremities, seek immediate medical attention. These symptoms can indicate a heart attack.
See a doctor if your pain:
- keeps you from daily activities
- lasts longer than 2 weeks
- accompanies a new, growing lump
- is concentrated in a specific area
- worsens with time
At your appointment, expect the doctor to ask about your symptoms. Questions may include:
- When did your breast pain begin?
- What worsens your breast pain? Does anything make it better?
- Do you notice the pain worsening around your menstrual cycle?
- How would you rate the pain?
- What does the pain feel like?
The doctor will likely perform a physical exam and potentially recommend an imaging test, like a mammogram, to view your breast tissue.
If you have cystic breasts, the doctor might perform a needle biopsy. In this procedure, the doctor inserts a thin needle into the cyst to remove a small tissue sample for testing.
You can book an appointment with a primary care doctor in your area using our Healthline FindCare tool.