Is Breast Pain a Cause for Concern?

As many as 50 percent of women will experience breast pain at some point in their lives and understandably, many are concerned when they develop symptoms. The good news is breast pain is rarely a sign of breast cancer.

What Causes Breast Pain?

Most of the time, breast pain is benign (noncancerous) and easily treated. The most common causes are: 

Hormone changes. Your hormones fluctuate during your menstrual cycle, pregnancy and menopause, which can cause tenderness, sharp twinges or a dull ache in the breasts. Being overweight can cause you to have higher levels of estrogen, even post-menopause, which can contribute to breast discomfort.

A pulled chest muscle. If you pull a muscle in the chest wall, you may feel pain in your breasts.

An unsupportive bra. Approximately 80 percent of women are wearing the incorrect bra size. Our bodies frequently change throughout our lives. I encourage women to have a bra fitting once a year

Being overweight or inactive. Being overweight can increase your estrogen levels, leading to lumps and pain in your breasts. It can also affect how well your bra fits

Fibrocystic breast changes. Fibrocystic breast changes can cause lumpiness, pain and tenderness in the breasts. It occurs in more than 50 percent of women at some point in their lifetime, particularly during their reproductive years.

What Causes Breast Lumps? 

Breast lumps are also common in women, particularly in the 50 percent who have fibrocystic breast changes. The condition can cause areas of the breast to feel like dense, ropey knots. Fibrocystic breast changes can also cause cysts, which are soft, fluid-filled sacks that are not typically a sign of breast cancer.

Fibrocystic breast changes do not increase your risk of breast cancer. However, if you have a lump in your breast, see your primary care doctor or gynecologist.

The key is to know what is normal for your body and if something changes, talk to your doctor right away. Your physician can determine if you need a referral for a breast consultation or breast imaging. At that point, we can quickly determine if your lump is solid or cystic.

Maintain Healthy Breasts 

What is good for the whole body is good for breast health. I recommend women:

Maintain a healthy weight. The more fatty tissue you have, the more estrogen your body produces, which increases your risk of breast cancer.

Exercise regularly. You can decrease your risk of breast cancer by exercising 150 minutes a week (30 minutes a day, five days a week). You don’t have to go to the gym – a brisk walk counts.

Eat well. Focus on eating mostly vegetables and some fruit, as well as whole grains, lean protein (fish, chicken, seafood, beans, eggs), and healthy fats (avocados, nuts, seeds, olive oil). Consume red meat, high-fat dairy products and sugar in moderation.

Limit alcohol and avoid tobacco completely. If you drink alcohol, avoid having more than one drink per day. If you use tobacco products, talk to your doctor about ways to quit.

Wear a supportive bra. Visit a department store or specialty shop for a professional fitting once a year to make sure you are wearing the correct bra size.

Get a yearly mammogram. Women age 45 and older should have a mammogram each year. If you have a family history of breast cancer, you may need to start mammograms sooner, so talk to your doctor.

Pay attention to your body. If something doesn’t feel right, you notice a new lump or you have pain that lasts for a few weeks, see your doctor.

To find a physician near you, visit

Jennifer McAlister, MD, FACS

Fellowship-Trained Breast Surgeon
Pardee Breast Surgery

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