Breast pain can be scary, especially when you hear so much about it in your local health news and from your doctor. You immediately think cancer, and if you go on the online diagnosis tools, it literally always tells you that it might be some form of cancer, no matter what your symptoms. You could have a bloody nose, and it would tell you that you might have cancer.
This said, Dr Michael Cowher, a breast surgeon with the Cleveland Clinic explains,
The important thing for patients to realize is that while it can be a sign of cancer, it is very rare. Breast caner rarely comes with pain. The best way to find it is still by looking for lumps and other signs with your fingers. Breast pain is typically associated with hormonal changes, but here are a few of the big contributors:
Yes, if you’re nearing or on your period, you may experience breast tenderness and pain. Many women have heaviness in their breasts right before their periods, even experiencing pain while walking up the stairs. Higher estrogen and progesterone levels cause the milk glands and ducts to enlarge, retaining water in the breasts, causing the pain. However, this type of pain usually goes away shortly after your period when your hormones have evened out again.
This is a type of arthritis pain in the middle of the chest. It happens between the ribs and the breastbone, and it is typically caused by poor posture or aging. Women who experience costochondritis describe it as a burning sensation in the breast that can mimic a heart attack or other heart condition. If there is swelling, it could be Tietze Syndrome. You can apply heat or ice and take an ibuprofen for this.
Noncyclical breast pain
This type of pain is not related to your period, and it’s typically isolated to one specific area of the breast. Women sometimes experience this after a breast biopsy, breast injury, or trauma as well as pain from tissue or muscles around the breast. This is most common in women between 40 and 50, but it can strike pre or post menopausal women. It generally lasts for a couple years.
Fibrocystic breast condition
Fibrocystic breast condition used to be known as a disease, and it is now seen as a natural change in a woman’s breasts. More than 50% of women will experience it at some point or another. It is characterized by breast tissue that ends up feeling lump or rope-like, and it causes pain and tenderness in the upper to outer areas of the breasts right around your period.
Too much caffeine
If you drink too much caffeine, yes, that could ultimately cause breast pain. Some doctors ask about this first, because an estimated 25% of women will benefit in the area of breast pain by eliminating or reducing caffeine. A Duke University study found that 61% of women with breast pain who stopped drinking caffeine had reduced breast pain. Caffeine leads the blood vessels to dilate, causing the breasts to swell and hurt.
An old bra
I know, it seems like an odd thing to cause breast pain, but your bra is around your breasts so much, it has to do something. Dr Cowher says,
I see plenty of postmenopausal women who may not have purchased a bra in several years, and that’s why they are getting pain. Both the elastic in the bra and in the body wear out as you age. Sometimes you have to adjust elastic in the bra to adjust for the elastic in the body. If you gain or lose weight, that would also be another time to get a new bra.
Mastitis is when you get an infection in the breasts. Bacteria enters, causing pockets of pus to form that need to be drained. Antibiotics unfortunately cannot penetrate the pus, and breast abscesses can also form during breastfeeding. If the infection comes with a red swelling in the breast, fever, or chills, go to see your doctor.
Thoracic outlet syndrome
Breasts have a ton of nerve endings, and in some rare cases, women have pain due to thoracic outlet syndrome. Nerves that pass through the breasts become compressed. If you experience a shooting pain, you most likely have this condition. Persistent arm pain could be a sign of other issues though like a heart attack or other heart condition. So it still should be checked out.
This is also known as Zuska’s disease, which causes small abscesses beneath the nipple. It also comes with painful discharge. This can be caused by smoking. So if you have it, one of the best things you can do is stop smoking. Unfortunately, this is often misdiagnosed as breast cancer, and it leads to false and unnecessary mastectomies. If treated properly, it can be treated with antibiotics.