There are many reasons breasts can be painful. Breast pain by itself is unlikely to be a symptom of cancer.
Breast pain is usually linked to periods
Symptoms of breast pain caused by periods:
- dull, heavy or aching pain – from mild to very bad
- pain that begins up to 2 weeks before a period, gets worse and then goes away when the period ends
- usually (but not always) affects both breasts and sometimes pain spreads to the armpit
How to ease the pain yourself
- take paracetamol or ibuprofen, or rub painkilling gel on your breasts
- wear a properly fitted bra during the day and a soft bra to sleep in
There's little evidence that vitamin E tablets or evening primrose oil help with breast pain.
Breast pain not linked to periods
Sometimes breast pain is caused by:
- injuries or sprains to the neck, shoulder or back – these can also be felt as breast pain
- medicines like the contraceptive pill and some antidepressants – check the side effects in the packet's information leaflet
- conditions like mastitis or a breast abscess – these can cause breast pain along with other symptoms
- pregnancy – breast pain can be an early sign
Breast pain and the menopause
Hormone changes during the menopause can cause breast pain.
Once the menopause is over (you've had 12 months without a period) the pain should not return.
See a GP about breast pain if:
- it's not improving or painkillers aren't helping
- you have a very high temperature or feel hot and shivery
- any part of your breast is red, hot or swollen
- there's a history of breast cancer in your family
- you have any signs of pregnancy – you could do a pregnancy test first
Ask for an urgent GP appointment if:
- there's a hard lump in your breast that doesn't move around
- you get nipple discharge, which may be streaked with blood
- one or both breasts change shape
- the skin on your breast is dimpled (like orange peel)
- you have a rash on or around the nipple, or the nipple has sunk into the breast
These can be signs of something more serious.