Breast pain (mastalgia) — a common complaint among women — can include breast tenderness, sharp burning pain or tightness in your breast tissue. The pain may be constant or it may occur only occasionally.
Breast pain can range from mild to severe. It can affect you just a few days a month, for instance just before your period, or can last for seven days or more each month. Breast pain may affect you just before your period or it may continue throughout the menstrual cycle. Postmenopausal women sometimes have breast pain, but breast pain is more common in younger, premenopausal women and perimenopausal women.
Most times, breast pain signals a noncancerous (benign) breast condition and rarely indicates breast cancer. Still, unexplained breast pain that doesn't go away after one or two menstrual cycles or that persists after menopause and occurs in one specific area of your breast needs to be evaluated by your doctor.
Most cases of breast pain are classified as either cyclic or noncyclic. Each type of breast pain has distinct characteristics.
Extramammary breast pain
When to see a doctor
Although breast cancer risk is low in women whose main symptom is breast pain, if your doctor recommends an evaluation, it's important to follow through.
Sometimes, it's not possible to identify the exact cause of breast pain. Contributing factors may include one or more of the following:
Preparing for your appointment
You're likely to start by seeing your family doctor, a general practitioner or other care provider. In some cases, when you call to set up an appointment, you may be referred immediately to a breast health specialist.
What you can do
For breast pain, basic questions to ask your doctor include:
What to expect from your doctor
Your doctor may also assess your personal risk of breast cancer, based on factors such as your age, family medical history and prior history of precancerous breast lesions.
Tests and diagnosis
Tests to evaluate your condition may include:
Treatments and drugs
For many women, breast pain resolves on its own over time. You may not need any treatment.
If you do require treatment, your doctor might recommend that you:
Lifestyle and home remedies
Even though there is little research to show the effectiveness of these self-care remedies, some may be worth a try:
Vitamins and dietary supplements may lessen breast pain symptoms and severity for some women. Ask your doctor if one of these might help you — and ask about doses and any possible side effects:
If you try a supplement for breast pain, stop taking it if you don't notice any improvement in your breast pain after a few months.
Last Updated: 2013-01-16
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