The most common benign breast complaint that women report to their healthcare providers is breast pain, often fearing that it might be a symptom of cancer. The good news about breast pain is that it is usually not associated with breast cancer. Nevertheless, any breast pain that is persistent and occurs in the same area should not be ignored.
Most women tend to experience tenderness in their breasts the week before their period, but some women report breast pain throughout their entire menstrual cycle.
Normal breasts are affected by fluctuating hormone levels during the menstrual cycle. Premenstrual levels of estrogen and progesterone can cause the breastto feel more lumpy and/or swollen, causing discomfort. Many women report that the pain or lumpiness gets worse as they get older. This may be a result of increased sensitivity to the change in hormone levels.
Cyclical pain is breast discomfort that is clearly related to the menstrual cycle.Pain related to hormonal changes usually begins at ovulation and increases untilthe menstrual period begins. Pain usually decreases or subsides after menstruation.
Often the pain is experienced in both breasts, but occasionally only one breastis affected. The pain is usually in the upper outer area of the breast.
Noncyclical pain is breast discomfort that has no relationship to the menstrualcycle. The pain may be continuous or occur at various times throughout the month. Patients may report pain that is localized to a specific area in one breast. Some causes of noncyclical pain include breast cysts (fluid-filled sacs), fibroadenomas (benign breast mass), duct ectasia (inflammation in the duct), breast infection or abscess.
Musculosketal pain originates from a pinched nerve in the back or neckand radiates to the breast. Sometimes this pain is associated with a history ofback injury, arthritis or osteoporosis.
In addition to consulting with your doctor, there are things you can do to help ease breast pain. For one, wear a well-fitted support bra, particularly when your breasts are most sensitive. Go for a bra fitting. Make sure you are wearing the correct bra and cup size. You may consider purchasing a bra with a larger cup size to wear when your breasts are most tender. Try modifying your diet too. Reduce the amount of your daily caffeine and salt intake. Supplements such as Vitamins E and B complex may be helpful, but it may take a few weeks before you notice a difference.
Contact your primary care physician or gynecologist if you experience any of the following symptoms:
• Breast pain that is associated with a palpable breast lump
• Pain that is persistent and specific to one area in the breast
• Breast pain that is accompanied by skin changes or nipple retraction
As always, it is important to talk to your doctors about any concerns you might have or any symptoms you are experiencing, particularly if you are in doubt about something.
Courtesy of Melissa Martinez, RN, APN, patient navigator for The Breast Center at Saint Peter’s University Hospital, part of Saint Peter’s Healthcare System. The center is the first in central New Jersey to be accredited by American Cancer Society National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers. Visit our website to learn more about breast health services at Saint Peter’s.