Breast tenderness or pain can result from many different factors; however, physicians stress that tenderness or pain does not commonly indicate breast cancer and that some breast tenderness is normal, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Common causes of breast tenderness and pain include hormone cycles, pregnancy and fibrocystic breast changes.
Hormone cycles, particularly the menstrual cycle, can cause a condition clinically known as cyclical mastalgia, or breast pain that fluctuates with the menstrual cycle. Women sometimes begin to feel discomfort around the time of ovulation, which then peaks right before menstruation. The discomfort often disappears with the onset of menstruation. It may be felt locally or as a radiating pain from the underarm.
Depending on the exact situation, a physician may prescribe any of several different management approaches. The University of Virginia Health System states that caffeine avoidance may lead to diminished discomfort levels, as can vitamin E and evening primrose oil supplements. Hormone replacements or birth control pills can also be offer relief.
Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
According to NetWellness.org, breast tenderness can occur during pregnancy because of sharp increases in estrogen and progesterone, two reproductive hormones. A few weeks after gestation, a pregnant woman may notice tingling sensations, or sensations of heaviness or soreness in her breasts. This symptom occurs primarily during the first trimester and more commonly in women pregnant at a young age, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.
Breast tenderness can also occur post-birth with the production of milk and breastfeeding. The swelling can lead to tenderness and pain, and breastfeeding itself may be uncomfortable. In severe cases, the breasts may swell, turn red and be accompanied by flu-like symptoms, indicating a condition called mastitis, which can be serious and should be treated promptly by a physician.
Fibrocystic Breast Changes
The Mayo Clinic notes that fibrocystic breast changes consist of breast tissue that feels lumpy, ropy or granular. More than half of women experience fibrocystic breast changes at some point in their lives. The condition can cause breast tenderness or pain that usually occurs cyclically with the menstrual cycle, with increases from ovulation until just before menstruation. The precise cause of fibrocystic changes remains unknown, but scientists suspect a link with estrogen cycles.
Generally, treatment is only warranted for severe pain or large lumps, for which needle aspiration or surgical excision may be used. For more minor lumps, physicians recommend over-the-counter pain medications, according to the Mayo Clinic; some physicians may recommend decreasing caffeine intake.