Breast Pain

This leaflet is for women who have breast pain and will give you advice and information about your breast pain.

How common is breast pain?

Breast pain is very common and it affects women of all ages. Two out of three women will have breast pain at some time in their lives.  Like any other breast problem, it can be worrying, but on its own it is not usually a sign of breast cancer.

There are two types of breast pain: Pain related to the menstrual cycle (cyclical breast pain) or unrelated to your cycle (non-cyclical breast pain).

What is cyclical breast pain?

Cyclical breast pain is linked to changing hormone levels during the menstrual cycle and so affects women before the menopause. Women may have discomfort or lumpiness in their breast/ breasts up to a week before their period. Pain can be mild to severe and the breasts can be sore to touch. The pain can affect either one or both breasts and can spread to the armpit, down the arm and to the shoulder blade. This type of pain usually stops when the ovaries are no longer active after the menopause. However women taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT) after the menopause can also experience breast pain. Cyclical breast pain can also be linked to taking the contraceptive pill, certain antidepressant drugs, stress and some herbal remedies.

What is non- cyclical breast pain?

Non-cyclical breast pain is breast pain that is not linked to the menstrual cycle. It may be related to non-cancerous (Benign) conditions, previous breast surgery or other medical conditions not related to the breast.

What can I do about breast pain?

Breast pain like any other breast symptom can cause a great deal of anxiety. Not knowing what causes the symptoms often makes the pain worse. Once you have been advised that there is no cause for concern, the symptoms often reduce.

Some lifestyle changes may help your pain. These include reducing your intake of caffeine, chocolate and red wine, increasing the amount of fresh fruit and vegetables you eat and taking regular exercise to help maintain a healthy weight. Wearing a correctly fitting bra at night as well as during the day may also help. If your pain started when you began taking the contraceptive pill, you may be advised to change to a low-dose pill or a different type of pill or contraceptive.

Can breast pain be treated?

If all of the above measures do not help your pain, then it is possible to take medication, which may help. You may wish to consider taking over the counter painkillers at times when your breast pain is particularly bad. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory painkillers such as ibuprofen, can help this type of pain. These are particularly effective if applied directly to the area of your pain, in the form of cream/gel but can also be taken in tablet form. Your GP would be able to advise you on the dose and any reasons why you could not take these. There is weak evidence that taking vitamin B6 and folic acid will help to reduce breast pain.

Your GP may be able to advice you on other medications that may help your symptoms. Some complementary/alternative therapies (non-medical drugs) may help with your symptoms.  

What this means for you

Breast pain can be very distressing, and many women are anxious that they may have breast cancer.  In most cases breast pain will be the result of normal changes that occur in the breasts. While you may feel relief at being told that it is normal and you do not have breast cancer, the pain often persists. This can be very upsetting, especially if your specialist is unable to tell you the exact cause of your breast pain.

Women affected by breast pain may feel many different emotions, such as fear, frustration or helplessness, and these are all normal reactions. Understanding 

More about your breast pain will not cure it, but it may help you alter the way you cope and get back some control over your life.

Having breast pain does not increase your risk of breast cancer, but it is still important to be breast aware and go back to your GP if you notice any other changes.

Data Protection

Any personal information is kept confidential. There may be occasions where your information needs to be shared with other care professionals to ensure you receive the best care possible.

In order to assist us to improve the services available your information may be used for clinical audit, research, teaching and anonymised for National NHS Reviews. Further information is available in the leaflet Disclosure of Confidential Information IL137, via Gateshead Health NHS Foundation Trust website or the PALS Service. 

This leaflet can be made available in other languages and formats upon request