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Breast pain - What is breast pain?

BMJ Group Medical Reference


Breast pain can be distressing and difficult to live with. It's not usually a sign that there's something seriously wrong. Often there's no obvious cause for breastpain. But there are some treatments that can help.

We've brought together the best research about breast pain and weighed up the evidence about how to treat it. You can use our information to talk to your doctor and decide which treatments are best for you.

Breast pain is also called mastalgia. It means that you have pain rather than just tenderness in your breasts. The pain can make you uncomfortable and worried. But it's rarely a sign of a serious problem, such as breast cancer. Many women get breast pain.

It is normal for your breasts to feel tender at certain times, such as just before your period, in early pregnancy, and when you are breastfeeding. This tenderness is caused by normal changes in your hormones. You probably won't worry about these normal changes.

But you may worry if your breasts are painful rather than just tender, and the pain is so bad that it interferes with your life.

There are two main types of breast pain:[1]

  • Cyclical breast pain is linked to your periods (menstrual cycle) and is worst just before your period. It is the commonest type of breast pain.

  • Non-cyclical breast pain is not linked to your periods. It means that your breasts may feel painful some of the time, a lot of the time, or even constantly.

You may be worried that the pain in your breasts is due to cancer. But, in fact, pain on its own is not a common symptom of breast cancer. Less than 1 in 10 women with breast cancer have breast pain as their main symptom.[2] A study of women who had a mammogram (an x-ray of the breast) because they had breast pain found that they were no more likely to have cancer than women who didn't have breast pain.[3]

Most women with breast pain never know the cause of their pain. Because cyclical pain is linked with periods, some doctors think hormone imbalances may be to blame. (Hormone imbalances occur when your body produces too much or too little of one or more hormones.) But there is no evidence that hormone imbalances cause breast pain.[1] Other doctors think that cyclical pain is caused by water retention in your breasts before your period. But again there is no proof for this.[4]

Breast pain that's not linked to periods (non-cyclical breast pain) can be caused by:

Last Updated: June 20, 2013
This information does not replace medical advice.  If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.
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