Breast pain is the most common breast symptom causing women to consult primary care physicians and surgeons. Breast pain may occur in one or both breasts or in the underarm (axilla) region of the body. Though breast pain is rarely associated with breast cancer, women who experience any breast abnormalities, including breast pain, should consult their physicians.
There are two main types of breast pain, cyclical and non-cyclical. Cyclical breast pain is associated with the menstrual cycle and is most severe before the menses. The breast pain is usually bilateral (both breasts) and poorly localized. The pain is generally described as a heaviness or soreness that often radiates to the axilla and arm. The pain has a variable duration and is often relieved after the menses. Pain usually resolves spontaneously.
Non-cyclical breast pain is far less common than cyclical breast pain and is not related to a woman’s menstrual cycle. Non-cyclical breast pain is usually unilateral (one breast) and is described as a sharp, burning pain that is in one specific area of the breast. Non-cyclical breast pain can occur occasionally secondary to the presence of a fibroadenoma (benign growth) or cyst. If breast pain is accompanied by lumpiness, cysts (accumulated pockets of fluid), or areas of thickness, the condition is usually called fibrocystic change.
Other factors that may contribute to breast pain in some women include oral contraceptive pills, hormone replacement therapy, weight gain, bras that do not fit properly, and tumors (most painful tumors do not indicate breast cancer).
Breast pain should be treated when it is severe enough to interfere with a woman’s lifestyle and occurs for more than a few days each month. Most women with moderate breast pain are not treated with medications or surgical procedures.
The following suggestions have been shown to reduce breast pain in some women:
- Wear a good supportive bra to reduce breast movement.
- Avoid caffeine intake (coffee, tea, and soft drinks, chocolate).
- Over-the-counter Vitamin E supplementation (400 IU daily).
- Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory (Ibuprofen or Advil – 800mg three times a day with food).
- Heat to the affected breast.
Try the above recommendations for 2 weeks. If no relief, can reintroduce caffeine and try the herb, Evening Primrose Oil, in liquid or tablet form (2 grams orally/day).