Learn about possible causes and treatments for breast pain, along with self-care remedies that may help keep you comfortable when breast pain flares.
Breast pain (mastalgia) can be described as tenderness, throbbing, sharp, stabbing, burning pain or tightness in the breast tissue. The pain may be constant or it may occur only occasionally, and it can occur in men, women and transgender people.
Breast pain can range from mild to severe. It may occur:
In men, breast pain is most commonly caused by a condition called "gynecomastia" (guy-nuh-koh-MAS-tee-uh). This refers to an increase in the amount of breast gland tissue that's caused by an imbalance of the hormones estrogen and testosterone. Gynecomastia can affect one or both breasts, sometimes unevenly.
In transgender women, hormone therapy may cause breast pain. In transgender men, breast pain may be caused by the minimal amount of breast tissue that may remain after a mastectomy.
Most times, breast pain signals a noncancerous (benign) breast condition and rarely indicates breast cancer. Unexplained breast pain that doesn't go away after one or two menstrual cycles, or that persists after menopause, or breast pain that doesn't seem to be related to hormone changes needs to be evaluated.
Breast pain can be cyclic or noncyclic. Cyclic means that the pain occurs on a regular pattern. Noncyclic means that the pain is constant, or that there's not a regular pattern. Each type of breast pain has distinct characteristics.
|Cyclic breast pain||Noncyclic breast pain|
The term "extramammary" means "outside the breast." Extramammary breast pain feels like it starts in the breast tissue, but its source is actually outside the breast area. Pulling a muscle in the chest, for example, can cause pain in the chest wall or rib cage that spreads (radiates) to the breast. Arthritis that involves the cartilage in the chest, also known as costochondritis, can also cause pain.
Make an appointment with your doctor if breast pain:
Breast cancer risk is very low in people whose main symptom is breast pain, but if your doctor recommends an evaluation, it's important to follow through.
Changing hormone levels can cause changes in the milk ducts or milk glands. These changes in the ducts and glands can cause breast cysts, which can be painful and are a common cause of cyclic breast pain. Noncyclic breast pain may be caused by trauma, prior breast surgery or other factors.
Sometimes, it's not possible to identify the exact cause of breast pain, but some factors may increase the risk.
Breast pain is more common among people who haven't completed menopause, although it may occur after menopause. Breast pain can also occur in men who have gynecomastia, and in transgender people who are undergoing gender reassignment.
Other factors that may increase the risk of breast pain include:
The following steps may help prevent the causes of breast pain, although more research is needed to determine their effectiveness.
Tests to evaluate your condition may include:
For many people, breast pain resolves on its own over time. You may not need any treatment.
If you do need help managing your pain or if you need treatment, your doctor might recommend that you:
Vitamins and dietary supplements may lessen breast pain symptoms and severity for some people. Ask your doctor if one of these might help you — and ask about doses and any possible side effects:
Vitamin E. Early studies showed a possible beneficial effect of vitamin E on breast pain in premenstrual women who experience breast pain that fluctuates during the menstrual cycle. In one study, 200 international units (IU) of vitamin E taken twice daily for two months improved symptoms in women with cyclic breast pain. There was no additional benefit after four months.
For adults older than 18 years, pregnant people and breastfeeding women, the maximum dose of vitamin E is 1,000 milligrams daily (or 1,500 IU).
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. Try just one supplement at a time so that you can clearly determine which one helps alleviate the pain — or not.
If you have breast pain that is new, that persistently affects just a particular part of your breast or that affects your quality of life, see your doctor for an evaluation. In some cases, when you call to set up an appointment, you may be referred immediately to a breast health specialist.
The initial evaluation of your breast pain focuses on your medical history. Your doctor will ask about the location of your breast pain, its relation to your menstrual cycle and other relevant aspects of your medical history that might explain the cause of your pain. To prepare for this discussion:
For breast pain, basic questions to ask your doctor include:
Your doctor may ask you questions such as:
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.