Is pain in the breasts or breast soreness an alarming sign?
Breast soreness occurs due to stimulation of breast tissue by elevated estrogen levels which can occur during puberty. Also, during menses, various hormones cause variations in the breast tissue that usually leads to pain (called mastalgia) or uneasiness in some women.
Types of breast pain
Cyclical breast pain is often felt around the time of a woman’s menstrual period. It goes away after her period ends. This type of pain usually occurs in both breasts. It is more common in younger women and often stops after menopause.
Non-cyclical breast pain is not connected to the menstrual cycle. This type of breast pain is more prevalent in women between the age group of 30 and 50 years. It may arise in just one breast.
Pain may be felt in a part of the breast or the full breast. It may also be felt in the upper arm or armpit.
Breast pain may be described as:
- sharp, stabbing or shooting pain
- aching or burning
- heaviness or swelling of the breast
Breast Soreness: can it be a sign of cancer?
Breast pain is usually not associated with breast cancer. It is majorly a sign of a non-cancerous (benign) breast conditions such as:
- breast cysts
- fibrocystic breasts
- fat necrosis
- mammary duct ectasia
- breast infection (called mastitis)
- abscess(puss)s in the breast
Breast pain is only usually linked to breast cancer in advanced stages when skin is involved, or the disease has spread to axilla. Cancer is majorly painless to begin with. Having breast pain or fibrocystic breasts does not mean you are at a higher risk of developing cancer.
What to do when you have breast pain?
- Use less salt
- Wear a supportive bra
- Apply local heat to the painful area
- Take over-the-counter pain relievers sparingly, as advised by your Doctor
- Avoid caffeine – Though well-designed studies have not shown any link between avoiding caffeine and incidence of breast pain. However, many women report significant improvement in their symptoms when they reduce their intake of tea, coffee, chocolate, and energy drinks
- Vitamin E – Studies have do not consistently show benefits of vitamin E for treating breast pain, though some women find it helpful. Using vitamin E for a few weeks to see if it will help is unlikely to cause any harm. However, long-term use of vitamin E supplements is not recommended for breast pain, as there are some studies suggesting this may not be safe
- Evening primrose oil – Similar to Vitamin E, studies have not consistently shown evening primrose oil to be helpful in treating breast pain, though it does help some women. Evening primrose oil can be procured over the counter. Side effects might include nausea, diarrhoea, and headaches. In the past, there was a concern that certain patients might be at increased risk of seizures when taking this supplement, though this is now disputed.
- Omega 3 fatty acid – Though not proved conclusively, some women find increased intake of fish oils/omega-3 supplements to be helpful. Natural dietary sources include dark green leafy vegetables, ocean-raised (“wild”) cold-water fish, flax, walnuts, and sesame. Omega-3 supplements are also available by prescription and over the counter.
In most cases, breast pain goes away on its own after a few months, without any treatment.