Feeling pain when pressing on your breast can be alarming. You may wonder about the cause, and your mind might go to several worst case scenarios.

The good news is that most breast pain is caused by normal shifts in your hormones or by simple-to-treat conditions. Breast pain typically isn’t a symptom of breast cancer. That said, it’s still important to figure out why your breasts hurt when you apply pressure. It isn’t a symptom you should ignore.

In this article, we go over some of the most common causes of breast pain (also known as mastodynia and mastalgia), why it happens, and when you should see a doctor.

Your body goes through a series of hormone shifts every month that are tied to your period. These shifts are meant to prepare your body to host a pregnancy, and to discard unnecessary tissue if a pregnancy doesn’t begin.

These shifts in hormones can also cause pain and tenderness in your breasts. This sensitivity is known as cyclic mastalgia or fibrocystic changes. Around 50 percent of all women over the age of 30 experience this.

Right before your period starts, your breasts may feel especially tender if you press on them, or they may ache. If both of your breasts feel heavy and swollen, if your armpit areas also feel tender, and if you’re expecting your period soon, cyclic mastalgia could be the cause.

Mastitis is an infection of the breast tissue. Mastitis mostly affects women who are breastfeeding, and it can be related to a blocked milk duct or bacterial infection within the duct.

Mastitis can be accompanied by pain, swelling, redness, itching, and a sensation of heat on your breast. It also can cause you to have a fever.

Typically, only one breast will be affected with these symptoms at a time. Mastitis can develop into complications, such as a breast abscess, and often requires treatment from a medical professional.

Some prescription medications can cause breast pain as a side effect. Some of these medications are linked to your hormones, which can lead to breast pain that comes from swollen breast tissue. Others are prescribed to treat heart and cardiovascular conditions, which can lead to breast pain that comes from your chest wall.

Medications with breast and chest pain as a side effect include:

Breast cysts are sacs of fluid that can appear in your breast. They can be small or large, and then can swell or shrink throughout your menstrual cycle.

Breast cysts are extremely common, and researchers estimate that somewhere between 70 and 90 percent of people assigned as female at birth will have a breast cyst during their lifetime.

Breast cysts can feel painful when you press on them, and they may also feel smooth and circular. Most breast cysts are benign, but some do need to be removed.

A breast abscess is a sign of an infection in your breast tissue. They can be a complication of mastitis, or they can develop in people who aren’t breastfeeding.

It’s estimated that between 5 and 11 percent of women who develop mastitis while breastfeeding will go on to develop a breast abscess.

If you’re not breastfeeding, risk factors for developing a breast abscess can include being outside of the weight range recommended for your height and having pierced nipples. African Americans seem to also be at increased risk.

Tumors found in your breast can be benign, or they can be cancerous. Most changes in your breast tissue are benign, with only 3 to 6 percent estimated to be cancerous. What’s more, pain in your breast is rarely a sign that you have a cancerous tumor.

Fibroadenomas are a benign type of tumor that affects up to 25 percent of people assigned female at birth. They are usually painless, but you can sometimes feel them moving through your breast tissue when you apply pressure.

Cancerous breast tumors can cause pain if they’re inflammatory.

Inflammatory breast cancer is a rare type of breast cancer that develops quickly. It accounts for somewhere between 1 and 5 percent of breast cancer diagnoses, according to the American Cancer Society. Other symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer can include redness, swelling, and tenderness.

Your breasts can become bruised or otherwise injured just like the rest of your body.

If you have redness, swelling, or visible discoloration at the sight of your breast pain, it’s possible that you’re healing from a bump or bruise. This can happen as the result of an accident, a slip or fall, or playing sports.

You may also experience breast soreness from working out your chest muscles.

Most causes of breast pain are not a concern, and many will go away without any treatment. However, persistent breast pain isn’t something you should wait out or just hope goes away on its own.

You should talk with a doctor for breast pain if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • persistent, sharp pain in one or both breasts
  • redness or swelling that doesn’t go away after a day or two
  • any redness, swelling, colored drainage, fever, or other sign of infection while you’re breastfeeding
  • a lump in your breast

See a doctor right away if you find a lump in your breast

Anyone who finds a lump in their breast should talk with a doctor to find out the cause. Even if the lump isn’t painful, a medical professional should perform a physical exam to determine if additional diagnostic steps need to be taken.

Was this helpful?

Breast pain is a common symptom. Most often, the cause is something common or benign. Hormonal changes, benign cysts, and everyday injuries rarely need any type of medical intervention.

Breast pain is common, but this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t explore and find the cause. There are some rare cases where breast pain can indicate the presence of cancer.

If you’re concerned about any pain or other symptoms related to your breasts, talk with a doctor.