When to Worry About Breast Pain: 9 Causes of Tender Breasts

Medically Reviewed on 12/7/2021
When to Worry About Breast Pain
The easiest way to tell whether breast pain is something to worry about or not is to determine whether it is cyclic or noncyclic

Breast pain (mastalgia) is common and most often caused by hormonal fluctuations. In rare cases, however, breast pain can indicate serious problems such as an infection or breast cancer.

Breast pain may be described as tenderness, throbbing, stabbing, or burning. Common causes include menstruation, pregnancy, lactation, and menopause. However, cysts or tumors can also cause pain by compressing the surrounding nerves in the breast tissue.

The easiest way to tell whether breast pain is something to worry about or not is to determine whether it is cyclic or noncyclic.

What is the difference between cyclic and noncyclic breast pain?

Cyclic breast pain

Cyclic breast pain occurs every month around the same time and usually affects both breasts. The pain is diffuse and associated with mild tenderness, which typically fades without medical intervention as hormonal changes subside.

Noncyclic breast pain

Noncyclic breast pain is persistent pain that usually affects only one breast and is confined to a particular area. Instead of coming and going, the pain is present all the time. Depending on the underlying cause, the pain may be sharp, burning, throbbing, stabbing, etc.

9 causes of breast pain

  1. Medications: Oral contraceptive pills, hormonal injections, antidepressants, and antipsychotics can alter the hormonal balance of the body and lead to breast pain.
  2. Caffeine: High levels of caffeine may be linked to breast pain, although more research is needed.
  3. Injury: Direct injury can damage breast tissue and cause mastitis or inflammation.
  4. Poor-fitting bra: Wearing a bra without proper support can cause soft tissues to stretch and cause sore or achy breasts. 
  5. Referred pain: Sometimes, pain felt in the breast is caused by pain that originates from other areas of the body, such as pain due to heart conditions or inflammation at the junction of the ribs and cartilage in the chest wall (costochondritis).
  6. Breastfeeding: Breastfeeding can cause soreness around the nipples and increased breast tenderness.
  7. Breast implants: Damage to the implant can cause inflammation in the breast tissue, leading to breast pain.
  8. Cysts: Cysts are fluid-filled lumps that may change in size during menstruation and pregnancy due to fluctuating hormones. Cysts can cause breast pain due to compression of surrounding tissues.
  9. Tumors: Both benign and malignant tumors in the breast can cause pain due to pressure on the nerves. However, tumors of the breast usually don’t cause pain in the initial stages.


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When to see a doctor for breast pain

Seek medical attention if you notice the following symptoms:

  • Pain that interferes normal day-to-day activities and/or affects sleep
  • Pain lasts more than 2 weeks or that is noncyclic
  • Bloody or abnormal discharge from the nipples
  • Inverted nipple
  • Change in the appearance of skin over the breast (orange-peel appearance)
  • Hard lump that can be felt on palpation
  • Lump that increases in size over time
  • Fever, chest pain, breathing difficulty, or numbness

As the incidence of breast cancer has increased over the years, doctors advise women in the reproductive age group (20-50) to undergo annual check-ups. Moreover, it is recommended to see a doctor if your breast pain is new and/or different in nature than pain you have experienced in the past.

Medically Reviewed on 12/7/2021
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