Breast pain is probably the most common symptom or concern that we hear from all our patients that come to the practice. A lot of angst and uncertainty is caused by this, and it is our job to reassure patients and inform them about the myths and facts regarding breast pain.
What is breast pain?
The medical term for breast pain is mastalgia. It is found in over 70% of women at some stage of their lives.
There are three types of breast pain:
Cyclical breast pain is related to the menstrual cycle and feels like a dull, aching pain. The pain occurs mostly in the upper outer part of the breast. It normally starts a few days before menstruation, gradually increases and then subsides a week after menstruation.
Non-cyclical breast pain is when the pain is not related to the menstrual cycle. It feels like a tight, burning, tender sensation in one or both breasts.
It’s still unclear; the exact causes of non-cyclical breast pain but there are many factors: large breasts, certain drug treatments (herbal remedies) as well as stress and anxiety.
Certain foods – such as caffeine, chocolate and red meat – have also shown to have a link to breast pain.
Extra-mammary breast pain (outside the breast) is when other underlying conditions are causing a referred pain in the breast. This can be, for example, a pulled muscle or a shoulder pain that radiates down to the breast.
So, if you have breast pain when should you go see a doctor?
- Persists for a few weeks.
- Continues in a specific area of the breast.
- Is getting progressively worse.
- Affects your daily activities.
- Is associated with a painful lump in the breast.
Breast pain is seldom associated with breast cancer. It has a very low correlation as a symptom on its own, to be an indicator of breast cancer. Having said that, never ignore any persistent symptoms in your breasts. It’s always best to go see a doctor and have a thorough clinical breast examination. You’ll be referred for an ultrasound or mammogram if clinically indicated.
What can you do to ease breast pain?
- Adopt a low-fat diet with sufficient fibre.
- Reduce caffeine and alcohol intake.
- Increase your intake of fresh veggies and fruit.
- Do regular exercise.
- Wear a supportive, correctly fitting bra.
Some doctors suggest the use of evening primrose oil to ease breast pain. This doesn’t normally cause any side effects but may cause headaches and an upset stomach. It should not be used if you’re pregnant, trying to fall pregnant, or if you have epilepsy.
Certain benign conditions of the breast, such as fibrocystic disease, can also be a cause of persistent breast pain. This is seen with very dense-type breast tissue, where multiple fluid-filled dilated milk ducts (cysts) can expand and cause pain.
This condition is usually evident upon examination as dense, lumpy painful breasts, and can sometimes present with smooth mobile lumps in one or both breasts. These are commonly cysts that expand during certain phases of the month.
An annual mammogram and monthly breast examination need to be upheld diligently, if you have fibrocystic disease, as it’s a very complex type breast tissue to evaluate.
HRT and contraceptive pill
Certain hormone replacement therapies (HRT) and the contraceptive pill are also known to cause breast pain. If the pain started during use of these medications, consult your doctor about dosage and see if it can be altered to ease the breast pain.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]
MEET OUR EXPERT – Kathryn Malherbe
Kathryn Malherbe is a senior mammographer working at LaVita Women’s Wellness Centre in Pretoria. She has completed her master’s degree which focused on lobular carcinoma of the breast and the diagnosis thereof can be improved with ultrasound detection tools.