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Is breast pain a sign of breast cancer?

You can never say never, but in general, breast pain is rarely a sign or symptom of breast cancer. Breast pain is usually just physiologic, and almost every woman experiences it at some point. It could be from causes such as the swelling before menstruation, inflammation of the joint between the ribs and the sternum, infection or the development of cysts.

Dr. Ajay K. Sahajpal, MD
Transplant Surgeon

Breast pain is usually not a sign of breast cancer, but can be a sign of a health problem. Changes within the breast, including pain, should be evaluated by your primary care physician.

Dr. Stuart A. Linder, MD
Plastic Surgeon

Breast pain can be a sign of breast cancer, however, less than 10% of cancers of the breast are associated with pain.  Whenever a patient has pain or tenderness in the breast, it is important that this be evaluated by a physician and diagnostic testing should be performed which may include ultrasound, mammograms or MRIs.  If the patient has a strong family history of breast cancer, mother, aunt or sister and a lump is detected, then the mass should be biopsied.

Breast pain can be associated with breast cancer. If the pain is severe, or associated with redness or swelling in the breast or dimpling of the skin, it could be a sign of inflammatory breast cancer (IBC). This type of breast cancer is very rare, but also very serious. It needs to be detected and treated immediately, so if you have these symptoms, see a doctor right away!

Breast pain that comes and goes is usually from hormonal changes associated with menstruation. You should let your doctor know so he or she can perform a thorough breast examination and order any additional tests needed.

Breast pain can be a symptom of breast cancer, but most breast pain is not caused by cancer. In fact, the vast majority of pains in the breast are not caused by cancer. And, when we look at large groups of women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, most do not have pain. So, we can conclude the following:

  • Most breast pain is not from cancer
  • Most breast cancers do not hurt

But since some pain IS caused by cancer and some cancers DO hurt, any new breast pain should be reported to your doctor so he/she can thoroughly assess the situation to determine the cause of the pain and make sure there is not a cancer.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.