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Breast pain information

Breast pain (the medical name is mastalgia) is a common problem, experienced by most women at some time in their lives. If you experience breast pain, it's not usually any reason to worry, as most breast pain is caused by hormonal changes rather than breast cancer or other serious problems. However, see your general practice team urgently if you notice any discharge from your nipples or a lump in your breast.

Young boys and men can also experience pain in the breast area. Sometimes this pain can occur at the same time as enlargement of the breast tissue (called gynaecomastia). In older men with gynaecomastia, the pain usually gets better after three to six months.

What causes breast pain in women?

Some breast pain in women is caused by hormonal changes related to the menstrual cycle (your period). This is called cyclical breast pain. This type of pain usually comes in the days before your period, and gets better when your period begins.

The contraceptive pill or Depo-Provera injection can cause breast pain in some women.

Pregnancy is also a common cause of breast pain or tenderness.

Older women sometimes get breast pain that is not caused by hormones, but can be related to menopause. This is called non-cyclical, or sometimes unilateral, breast pain. Often no cause can be found but occasionally cysts or age-related changes to the milk ducts can be the problem.

It's very rare for breast pain to be caused by cancer.

What does breast pain feel like?

The type of pain and amount of pain will vary between women. Some words used to describe breast pain include "awareness", "discomfort", "heaviness", and "fullness". Others might feel a burning, stabbing, or throbbing pain. You might get breast pain in both breasts or just one.

What can I do if I have breast pain?

Most breast pain will go away on its own without any need for treatment, but there are a few simple ideas you can try. See your general practice team if you feel no improvement after three months of trying these ideas, or if you are worried.

Breast pain calendar

Use the Breast Pain Calendar to keep a record of when you feel pain, and what the pain feels like. This is a useful way to see any patterns, to see if treatment is working, and to find out if your breast pain is related to your period. Take the completed calendar to your doctor's appointments.

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed March 2015.

See also:

Preparing for your doctor's visit

Page reference: 48976

Review key: HIBRP-48976