Pain in the breast often worries women due to the possibility of it being serious as is the case with breast cancer. However, in most cases breast pains are not due to conditions as serious as cancer. In fact the cause is so minor that medical treatment may not even be necessary. Nevertheless the potential for serious causes does exist and breast pain that persist for long periods of time, recurs frequently or where there are other symptoms like abnormal lumps or discharge needs to be investigated.
Meaning of Breast Pain
Pain can occur anywhere on or in the body. It is usually a warning signal of tissue damage. Pain occurs with inflammation which is the body’s way to protect against tissue damage. The other features of inflammation include swelling, heat and redness. Inflammation can occur for many reasons ranging from injury and infections to autoimmune diseases and cancer. Sometimes inflammation is not present in the breast tissue itself but can affect a nerve supplying the breast area thereby eliciting pain.
As with an individual symptom, breast symptoms is difficult to diagnose without considering other symptoms and at times conducting diagnostic tests. It is therefore advisable to always have breast pain checked by a medical professional even though it is often not due to any serious condition. It is important to bear in mind that even with serious conditions like breast cancer, early diagnosis can drastically improve the outcome and even be curable.
Signs and Symptoms
Breast pain is a symptom that may occur on its own or along with other symptoms. The medical term for breast pain is mastalgia but this does not indicate the exact cause. Like pain anywhere else on the body, the nature and intensity of the pain may vary. Sometimes these differences are related to the underlying cause while at other times it may be just individual experience. Pain like most symptoms are highly subjective. Similarly the factors that worsen and relieve that pain may also vary. Tenderness is where the pain intensifies when pressure is placed on the breast.
Some of the associated signs and symptoms of breast pain includes:
- Discharge/secretions from the breast
- Engorged or fullness sensation
- Redness of the skin over the breast
- Swelling of the breast
- Heat over the affected area
- Lumps within the breast tissue
- Nipple deformity
- Wrinkling or creasing of the skin
Causes of Breast Pains
Most of the time transient breast pain and tenderness is due to changes in the menstrual cycle or injury to the chest wall and breast. However, it is important to consider all possible causes especially when breast pain is persisting or worsening. It is important to note that the breasts are an appendage on the chest wall. Therefore breast pain may not always be from the breast tissue itself and can be related to other structures on the chest wall or even organs in the chest itself. Some of the possible causes of breast pain has been discussed below but medical attention should be sough to identify the exact cause.
This is among the more common causes of breast pain mainly in breastfeeding women. It is due to inflammation of the breast tissue largely as a result of a bacterial infection. Mastitis may require treatment but should not stop a women from breastfeeding. It is a common problem in pregnancy and often resolves quickly.
The breast tissue responds to changes in the hormone levels that are part of the menstrual cycle. Tenderness usually arises prior to menstruation and may continue until a few days after menstruation. Pain is not present in most women but may arise when using a tight bra or with underlying hormonal and breast problems.
Injury to the breast can occur in a number of ways. A blow to the chest or chest wall will lead to pain and tenderness. Sometimes the injury is not as obvious, like when wearing a poorly fitting bra. Breast feeding as well as very vigorous physical stimulation of the breast tissue may also result injury. Surgery to the chest wall or breast area also causes extensive trauma.
A breast abscess is where there is a collection of pus in the breast tissue. It is usually due to an infection where the body tries to wall off the infection. It may be felt as a lump in the breast or cause a slight bump on the breas surface. Pain, swelling, rednes and heat over the affected area are also present to some degree.
The female breast is made up largely of fat tissue. If there is injury to the breast the fat cells may burst and the fat tissue may form a hard mass. These types of masses are benign (non-cancerous) and signifies injury and death of some of the fat cells in the breast tissue.
Fibrocystic Breast Disease
Fibrocystic breast disease is where small masses form in the breast. These masses are benign (non-cancerous) and the condition is usually not serious although it can cause symptoms like pain. It also does not increase the risk of breast cancer. The exact cause is unknown but it appears to be linked to a hormonal abnormalities.
Breast cancer is understandably the more dreaded cause of breast pain. This is where abnornal cells (cancerous cells) multiply rapidly and destroy healthy breast tissue. It also has the potential to spread elsewhere in the body and like other cancers it can be deadly. Early diagnosis and treatment can improve the outlook and it is therefore important to have regular breast tests.
There are a host of other conditions that need to be considered as a possible cause of breast pain. These other conditions may not involve the breast itself but cause pain in and around the breast. These other conditions include:
- Acid reflux
- Skin diseases
- Angina pectoris
- Heart attack
- Lung infections
- Lung cancer
- Bone injury/fracture (ribs)
- Muscle strain
There are several other conditions that may also need to be considered and excluded as a possible cause of breast pain. It is always advisable to seek medical advice as sometimes the mildest pain may be due to the most serious of causes.