Breast Pain

Breast pain is one of the most common breast complaints. Nearly 70% of women have experienced breast pain at some point in their life. Fortunately, the majority of breast pain is not related to breast cancer. Breast pain may occur in one or both breasts and can involve the nipple and radiate to the armpit. Because there is often no easy remedy, breast pain can be very unsettling for patients. Breast pain is very real, however, and afflicts countless women.

Breast pain that is more localized, which presents with an enlarging mass, associated skin changes, or occurs in women after menopause generally warrants a complete evaluation. A complete evaluation includes a clinical breast exam with imaging studies such as mammography and ultrasound. If nothing is seen on a mammogram or ultrasound, an MRI may be needed. Breast pain in the absence of findings on clinical exam or diagnostic imaging is often associated with benign causes.

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Evaluation of breast pain is important to determine if the pain is due to physiological changes related to hormonal fluctuation or to a pathological process such as breast cancer.

There may be multiple causes for breast pain. In fact, it is often a result of multiple factors and generally does not lend itself to a quick fix. In most cases, breast pain is the result of hormonal stimulation of the breast cells. Breast pain can be cyclical, which means it ebbs and flows with the menstrual cycle, or non-cyclical, meaning it does not follow a women’s menstruation cycle.

Additionally, breast pain may be considered extramammary pain, when the pain is caused by the chest wall muscles or nerve injury rather than the breasts. Women with fibrocystic changes often have breast pain because hormonal stimulation stimulates cyst growth in the breasts and causes the breast tissue to retain water and swell. Factors that increase the local inflammatory environment of the breast, such as trauma or scarring, can also cause pain. Stress, which can alter hormone levels, has also been shown to be a cause for breast pain.

Common Treatments

  • Wear an appropriate-fitting, supportive bra (wearing this at night can also help decrease pain). Wear a sports bra while exercising.
  • Avoid, or reduce to a minimum, caffeine intake (coffee, tea, chocolate, soft drinks).
  • Eat a low fat, high complex carbohydrate diet.
  • Avoid dairy for trial period to assess impact on pain.
  • Smoking cessation.
  • Avoid excess sodium/salt intake (this increases fluid retention in tissue).
  • Evening primrose oil (1000 mg daily) – can be obtained over the counter.
  • Supplement with Vitamin E (400 iu daily).
  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol) or NSAID medications, both oral and topical, can help decrease breast pain.
  • Apply a warm or cold compress intermittently to the affected breast(s) to reduce pain.
  • Gentle massage of the area can aid in relief.
  • Prescriptive medications are available if breast pain cannot be relieved by supplemental treatments. Speak to your provider about options that would work for you.
  • Speak to your provider regarding a decrease in your oral contraception or hormone replacement dosage.
  • Try relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, massage, or mindfulness.

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The Margie Petersen Breast Center at Providence Saint John’s Health Center brings you some of the finest breast health and cancer care in Southern California.

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Margie Petersen Breast Team


The Breast Health Clinic can be reached at (310) 582-7209. If you have questions regarding a new symptom or want to make an appointment for evaluation please call and a staff member will assist with navigating you in the right direction.

Schedule an Appointment For more information

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