Breast pain is one of the most common concerns that we evaluate in the Center for Breast Care. It affects women of all ages and can be of short or long duration. It is often difficult to pinpoint the cause of pain because there are so many potential triggers. The first step in evaluation is to look for any potential disease process. Less than 10 % of breast cancer patients have associated breast pain. We recommend that you contact your provider or the Norma J. Vinger Center for Breast Care for:
- Persistent pain that is new to you and lasts longer than several weeks. (If your menstrual cycle is expected within this time frame, try to wait until your cycle has ceased. If the pain remains, call for evaluation).
- Pain associated with swelling, redness, and/or warmth of the breast that is not present in the other breast, or a change in the texture of the skin.
- A painful lump that you can feel.
- Pain that you notice along with spontaneous (not expressed) discharge from one or both nipples.
: Pain noted in both breasts prior to an expected menstrual period is usually normal. Wait for the period to end. If pain does not subside within several days, call for evaluation.
: Bilateral breast pain may be an early alert to pregnancy. Consider an “At home” pregnancy test.
Observations you can note that will assist your provider:
- Is the pain in one or both breasts?
- Is the pain in one spot or is it throughout the entire breast?
- Is the pain constant or intermittent? Is there a cyclic pattern to the pain?
- What type of exercise/ aerobic activity do you participate in? How often?
- Can you recall a specific trauma or injury to the breast/chest wall area?
If you have questions or concerns that we can help you with, please call our Breast Health Specialists at 1-800-362-9567, ext 51100, or (608) 775-1100.
Tips for managing breast pain
There is no single, simple remedy proven to help every patient with breast pain. For some women, one change may be all that is necessary. However, many women will require several attempts and strategies to determine what will help manage their pain. The following suggestions are listed from 1).the least costly to more expensive measures and 2).from less time consuming to the need to devote more attention to detail. Please keep in mind, if you make many changes at the same time you may not be able to sort out what is and is not of benefit.
- Decrease or stop caffeine intake. This should be accomplished gradually to avoid a caffeine cessation headache. Caffeine is found in coffee, tea, soda, chocolate and spicy foods, herbal products and medications. NOTE: It may take 2-3 months to observe improvement.
- Monitor and attempt to decrease sodium intake to the recommended daily amount of 2000 - 3000 mg per day. Increasing your water intake will also help flush sodium out of your body. Most people are surprised by their actual sodium intake when they keep track for a few days.
- Consider a low fat diet. Only 20 –25 % of your diet should come from fat. Learn to count fat grams.
- Breast massage. This aids in the reduction of excess fluid within the lymph channels of the breast. Using lotion to reduce friction, make dime-sized circles over all of the breast tissue. Begin at the lower bra band line and work up to the collarbone.
- Schedule a bra fitting by a certified bra fitter. We suggest calling ahead of time to schedule this so their attention is not divided. There are certified fitters at larger department stores (we are able to provide you with a list of vendors). There is no cost for the assistance of a bra fitter. Research has shown that more than half of all women are in the wrong size bra.
- Try a sports bra with high intensity support. Expect a good quality sports bra to cost more than $25.00. The bra is meant to provide minimal motion and appropriate lift. Ask the bra fitter to assist with this as well.
- The use of a NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) can provide temporary or prolonged relief. Consider ibuprofen (ie. Motrin, Advil) 400 – 600 mg every 8 hours for up to two weeks or naproxen (ie. ALEVE), one tablet every 12 hours for two weeks. Do not use if you are allergic to these medications or aspirin, or if you have kidney disease. Consult your primary care provider for concerns with drug interaction.
- VITAMIN E: 400 – 800 IU/ day
- EVENING PRIMROSE OIL capsules: 1500 mg twice daily for three months. This is frequently used in European countries, less often in the U.S.
If all of these attempts fail to provide relief, we would recommend further discussion with your primary care provider, breast radiologist or breast surgeon to evaluate the potential need and/or benefit from prescription medication utilized for severe breast pain that is life altering.