What causes pain in my breast?


Breast pain, often called mastodynia or mastalgia, can be caused by any of the following:

  • swelling or growth of breast tissue due to changes in a woman’s hormone cycle, leading to local inflammation, pressure and discomfort
  • medications
  • infections
  • trauma
  • heavy weight of breasts
  • underlying musculoskeletal inflammation or trauma

Many women are afraid that their breast pain is due to cancer. This is very, very rarely the case. Breast pain may happen as part of the menstrual cycle, or it may arrive and be constant for weeks or months—even years.

While most cases of breast pain are caused by normal bodily changes, it’s important that new breast pain be worked up with physical examination, breast imaging and a review of a woman’s overall health, medications and activities.

Trinity Health is a Catholic health care organization that acts in accordance with the Catholic tradition and does not condone or support all practices covered in this site. In case of emergency call 911. This site is educational and not a substitute for professional medical advice, always seek the advice of a qualified healthcare provider.

Learn about some of the common causes of breast pain and why these symptoms should never be ignored. Watch this video with gynecologist Arunachalam Jothivijayarani, MD, from Blake Medical Center.

Breast pain is extremely common; the medical term for breast pain is mastalgia or mastodynia. The pain is often cyclic, which means that it occurs in relation to (often just before) the menstrual cycle, and is often related to changes in the level of estrogen and progesterone. The pains are at times severe, and most commonly occur in the upper outer breast and may also extend to the nipple or underarm. Usually, the pains resolve after the menstrual period begins.

Non-cyclic mastalgia refers to pains which are not related to the menstrual period. Often, only one breast will have pain, and it may be localized to a single pinpoint area. The pains may be fairly constant and “aching” in nature, or may be sharp, burning or stabbing in character. Evaluation to rule out a specific mass or cyst is indicated, but most times, the pains are not related to any specific lesion (including cancer), and often resolve over time. Pulled chest wall muscles, pinched nerves or costochrondritis (inflammation of the cartilage of the ribcage) may also cause pain which appears to originate in the breasts.

Careful history and examination can usually rule out a significant cause of the pain. Often, a mammogram or ultrasound will be done to ensure that there is no mass or other specific lesion causing the pain. If no specific abnormality is found, simple maneuvers such as reducing intake of caffeine, salt and tobacco, wearing a supportive bra and using over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen during the premenstrual period will help to control symptoms. Vitamin E, B-complex vitamins and Evening Primrose Oil have also shown benefit in some patients in treating persistent pain, but none has been proven effective in placebo-controlled clinical trials. For more severe cases, hormonal agents may also be indicated. Persistent pains or pains associated with any mass or lump require evaluation by a physician.

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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.