Breast Pain

Breast pain (also called mastodynia or mastalgia) is a common reason women see their doctor.

Your doctor will perform an exam and in some cases order a mammogram or ultrasound to determine if the cause is benign. Breast pain is rarely an indication of breast cancer; breast pain alone is associated with breast cancer only about 10% of the time.

The Source of Pain

While the source of most breast pain is unclear, it may be associated with fibrocystic changes in the breast, a common and benign condition characterized by dense, cystic breast tissue. Many women have fibrocystic change and are asymptomatic; however, some women have significant tenderness, which may become worse with their menstrual cycle.

Types of Pain

Pain is divided into two groups:

  • Cyclical breast pain is more common and occurs in relation with your menstrual cycle.
  • Noncyclical breast pain does not display a pattern around your menstrual cycle.

Your doctor may ask you to keep a chart recording the days you have breast pain and when you have your period to determine if your breast pain is cyclical or noncyclical.

Because the cause of cyclical breast pain is thought to be related to the hormones involved in the menstrual cycle, some women find that stopping oral contraceptives or hormone replacement therapy (both of which contain estrogen) may decrease their breast pain. (Please do not stop any medications without first talking to your doctor.)

Many women find that their breast pain stops after menopause. Other less common causes of breast pain include infection, injury, and pregnancy.

Steps to Lessen Breast Pain

Often breast pain will get better without treatment. However, for some women this pain is severe and debilitating. Here are some simple steps you can take to help decrease your breast pain:

  • Wear a well-fitting, supportive bra.
  • Eliminate or decrease your caffeine intake or take vitamins E or B6. Although these have not been shown conclusively in studies to be effective, they have helped some women and are safe to try. Likewise, quitting smoking has been shown in some studies to decrease breast pain.
  • Vitamin A has been shown in a small group of women to reduce breast pain. Vitamin A is found in beta-carotene, which is in many orange, red, and dark green fruits and vegetables.
  • Decreasing dietary fat intake to 15% of total calories has been shown in one study to be associated with a significant decrease in the breast pain of participants.
  • Oil of evening primrose has been used by many doctors for the treatment of breast pain. It is safe and has very few side effects. You need to take one to two 500 mg capsules three times a day, and it may take several months to work. It can be found at health food stores and most drug stores.

It is recommended that you consult your physician for evaluation of your pain before you start taking new vitamins and/or other dietary supplements.

If you try the suggestions listed and your breast pain continues, please see your physician again. There are other medications available that are used less commonly in the treatment of breast pain. These medications have a high incidence of side effects and require careful physician supervision.