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  • Writer's pictureDr Jesse Hu

Help! My breast(s) hurt, I think I have cancer

Updated: Jun 20

Breast pain... is it cancer?

Contrary to popular belief, breast cancer does not cause pain.

Repeat after me:

Breast cancer is usually painless.

I am tempted to write this a third time to drive the point across because I’ve met countless patients who believe that they have cancer because they have pain in the breast(s). And sadly, I have also encountered some patients who did not see a doctor as they thought that they had a non-cancerous breast lump since it was not painful.

Breast pain (mastalgia) can be described as tenderness, throbbing, sharp, stabbing, burning pain or tightness in the breast tissue. It can range from mild to severe and can affect both men & women.

Breast pain can be cyclic or noncyclic. Cyclic means that the pain occurs on a regular pattern. Noncyclic means that the pain is constant, or that there's not a regular pattern.

The pain may be constant or it may occur only occasionally.

There are many causes of breast pain, or mastalgia. The most common cause of cyclical breast pain is due to changing hormone levels resulting in changes in the milk ducts or milk glands. Noncyclic breast pain may be caused by trauma, prior breast surgery or other factors.

Sometimes, it's not possible to identify the exact cause of breast pain, but some factors may increase the risk. These factors include:

  • Larger breast size

  • History of breast surgery

  • Certain hormonal medications such as infertility treatments and oral birth control pills

  • Excessive caffeine use

It is also important to consider extramammary (non-breast) causes of mastalgia such as muscle ache, costochondritis, angina (pain from the heart).

For many people, breast pain resolves on its own over time. You may not need any treatment. However, many things can be done to help manage the pain, such as

  • Eliminate an underlying cause or aggravating factor. This may involve a simple adjustment, such as wearing a bra with extra support.

  • Use a topical nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) medication.

  • Adjust birth control pills.

  • Reduce the dose of menopausal hormone therapy.

  • Evening primrose oil. This supplement may change the balance of fatty acids in the cells, which may reduce breast pain.

If you need some help or just some advice to calm your worries, make an appointment with our doctor, and we'll help guide you through any worries that you might have!

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