Breast Pain: What Does it Indicate?

Monika Pawar   by Monika Pawar, MS    Last updated on June 17, 2019,

Breast pain

Breast pain

Breast pain is a common condition and is experienced by 70 percent of women at least once in their lifetime. Medically, breast pain is known by other names like mastalgia, mammalgia, and mastodynia. Breast pain is associated with the following problems:

  • a dull ache
  • heaviness
  • tightness
  • a burning sensation in the breast tissue
  • breast tenderness

Areas affected

In most cases, breast pain affects the upper, outer area of both breasts. Sometimes, the pain can even spread to the arms.

Types of breast pain

Breast pain is usually classed as either:

Cyclical breast pain

Cyclical breast pain is related to periods. It usually occurs in the second half of the monthly cycle, becoming worse just before the period days.

Non-cyclical breast pain

Non-cyclical breast pain is not related to periods. This type of burning pain in the breast may occur due to various reasons:

  • Pain coming from the breast itself (like infection or breastfeeding).
  • Pain which does not come from the breast. It is known as breast muscle pain. Usually, in this case, the pain comes from the muscles of the chest wall. This type of pain can be caused by many other causes.

Symptoms of breast pain

Symptoms for cyclical breast pain and non-cyclical breast pain are different.

Symptoms of cyclical breast pain

  • Severe breast pain comes cyclically (like menstrual cycle, once in a month)
  • Tender breasts along with soreness
  • Heavy and dull pain (a feeling of stabbing or burning pain)
  • Swelling on breasts
  • The breasts may become lumpy (not with a single, hard lump).
  • Mostly, the upper and outer portions of both breast are affected
  • The pain can spread to the underarm and then to the arms gradually
  • Intense pain a few days before the period begins (sometimes, it may start a couple of weeks before menstruation)
  • It is more likely to affect younger women
  • Postmenopausal women may experience similar pains if they are on HRT (hormone replacement therapy)

Symptoms of non-cyclical breast pain

  • One breast is affected
  • Persistent breast pain
  • A small section of the breast is affected and the pain may also spread across the chest
  • Common among post-menopausal women
  • The pain does not come and go in a definite time-loop
  • The pain may be continuous or sporadic
  • In case of mastitis (pain caused by infection within the breast), the symptoms are:
  • the woman may have a fever, feel ill (malaise)
  • some type of breast swelling and tenderness
  • painful area may feel warm
  • redness on the upper portion of the breast
  • pain is like a burning sensation
  • For new mothers who are lactating, the pain is more intense while breastfeeding
  • In case of extramammary pain (that feels as if the source is within the breast, but it is elsewhere), the pain may occur in chest wall syndromes, such as costochondritis (inflammation at locations where the rib and the cartilage meet).

Breast Pain Causes: What can cause breast pain?

It is not always possible to determine the exact cause of breast pain. There are a number of breast pain causes among which changes in hormonal levels is one. The following factors can be associated with breast pain:

  • Puberty in girls
  • Breast trauma (like previous breast surgery)
  • Trauma to the chest wall
  • Menstruation and premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is one of the most common of all breast pain causes
  • Pregnancy (mostly during the first trimester)
  • Breastfeeding Mastitis (when a milk duct is not properly draining and becomes infected). It should not be ignored as it can become a serious infection if left untreated.
  • Menopause
  • Fibrocystic Breast Tissue (Some women have lumpy breast tissue which may be more painful during certain times of the month)
  • Certain Medications like digitalis, chlorpromazine, oxymetholone, some diuretics, spironolactone, and methyldopa

Pain under left breast

Unexpected pain can occur under the left breast for many reasons. The reasons may include problems with digestion or heart conditions. Mild problems related to digestion can be treated at home while some serious ones such as related to the heart may need urgent medical attention.

The pain under left breast may occur because some organs in the upper left region of the body could be the source of the pain. These organs include the stomach, heart, lungs, ribs, colon, pancreas, and spleen.

Pain in right breast


Pain in both breasts can most commonly occur due to an imbalance in estrogen levels. This imbalance often occurs in women during menopause. Therefore, during menopause, women may experience an increase in the size of the breast resulting in pain above or under the right breast.

Is breast pain a sign of cancer? Is breast cancer painful?

Breast pain is not a symptom of cancer. A breast tumor rarely causes pain, and is generally not reported as painful.

But if you experience breast pain along with any other symptom of cancer, contact your physician immediately.

Read about Early Signs and Symptoms of Breast Cancer.

Read about Breast Cancer Diagnosis and Early Detection

Treatment of breast pain, Medicines for breast pain

The most common medication for hormonal breast pain and tenderness is hormone replacement therapy (HRT). HRT is a regimen of artificial hormones and it is considered a fast and powerful way to reduce breast pain. But this therapy also has certain side effects. Taking synthetic hormones raises the risk of heart diseases, stroke, breast cancer, and ovarian cancer.

Additional medications which also help to relieve breast pain include:

  • Danazol
  • Tamoxifen
  • Goserelin injections