Breast Pain: Does It Mean Breast Cancer?

The question I receive most often from teens and young women on our Hopkins Web site concerns breast pain and the writers' worries that it may be associated with cancer.

Actually, breast pain is quite common during the years a young woman's breasts are developing and shouldn't be associated in a woman's mind with breast cancer. In fact, breast pain is only associated with breast cancer in less than 10 percent of cases, so rest easy.

Some of the most urgent of these correspondents are frightened teenagers worried about how to talk to their mother about this, or who just don't feel comfortable discussing their developing body with others.

Breast pain is most common right before a girl's menses starts because the monthly menstrual cycle affects the development of ducts and lobules in young women and causes swelling. For young teens who are not yet menstruating, breast pain might be an early sign that their menstrual cycles will begin soon.

If you've been worrying about breast pain, try these simple remedies:

  • Don't wear a bra that is too tight or doesn't fit.
  • Take vitamin E 400 IUs a day, which in some studies has proven to reduce symptoms of breast pain and tenderness.
  • Limit your caffeine intake; it can aggravate breast pain.
  • Take one of several over-the-counter pain relievers designed to relieve menstrual symptoms.

Some other common causes of breast pain include the development of benign cysts in the breasts, pregnancy, oral contraceptives, and hormone-replacement therapy. If breast pain comes on suddenly and feels unusual, it may be related to mastitis, an infection of the breast. If this turns out to be the case, antibiotics will clear it up.

While we're on the subject of breast pain, I should note that some young mothers who are weaning their babies off the breast may find the experience intensely painful. Rather than starting the weaning process by yourself, talk with your doctor or OB nurse about a plan. He or she can help you wean your baby in a way that will be less painful for both you and your baby.

Only on rare occasions is breast pain a sign of cancer. When breast pain develops and is new and has no obvious explanation, getting a mammogram and ultrasound, along with a clinical breast exam, is a wise step. Usually, however, this type of pain turns out to be due to a benign cyst, which can be easily aspirated during breast imaging — instant relief!

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