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What Are the Causes of a Swollen Breast?

author image R. Y. Langham, Ph.D.
R. Y. Langham served as a senior writer for "The Herald" magazine from 1996-99. Langham holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Fisk University, a Master of Science in marriage and family therapy from Trevecca Nazarene University and a Ph.D in family psychology from Capella University. Dr. R.Y. Langham published her first psychological thriller in September 2011. It can be purchased on Amazon.com, Barnes&Noble.com and Lulu.com.
What Are the Causes of a Swollen Breast?
Breast cancer can cause swollen breasts. Photo Credit breast cancer ribbon image by robert mobley from <a href='http://www.fotolia.com'>Fotolia.com</a>

Many women experience swollen breasts at some time in their lives. A woman may experience breast swelling when one or both of her breasts enlarge beyond their regular size. Swollen breasts are often accompanied by tenderness, soreness, pain, breast lumps, nipple changes and nipple secretions, according to the website HealthHype.com. While swollen breasts may be caused by fluctuating hormones, it may also be a sign of a serious medical disorder.


Young girls may experience swollen breast as they enter puberty. The first sign of female puberty is the development of tender “breast buds,” according to the according to the website TeenGrowth.com. Puberty occurs when a girl’s body starts producing high levels of female hormones in anticipation of adulthood. The Palo Alto Medical Foundation states that girls usually develop breasts between the ages of 7 and 13 years old, although some girls may develop breasts earlier or later. When girls enter puberty, tissue forms behind their breasts, causing the flat area around the nipples to enlarge and giving the appearance of swollen or enlarged breasts.

Impending Menstruation

Women can experience breast swelling and tenderness as a result of an impending menstrual period, according to Medline Plus. A woman’s breasts may swell shortly before each menstrual period, only to decrease in size immediately following menstruation. Women who get swollen breasts report breast fullness, heaviness and tenderness shortly before the start of their menstrual period. Women may experience swollen breasts when their breast ducts expand as a result of rapidly increasing levels of the hormone estrogen. Medline Plus states that on the 21st day before menstruation, a woman will also experience a significant increase in the hormone progesterone triggering the growth of milk glands.

Inflammatory Breast Cancer

Inflammatory breast cancer can cause swollen breasts in some women. The National Cancer Institute estimates that 1 to 5 percent of all breast cancer cases in the United States are attributed to inflammatory breast cancer. This type of breast cancer is a rare, but a very aggressive form of breast cancer. It occurs when cancer cells block the lymph vessels in the skin of the breast causing it to become swollen, red and “inflamed.” Women with inflammatory breast cancer may notice that the skin on their breasts has a pink or reddish purple color that consist of ridges or pits that resemble the skin of an orange. The pitted appearance of the skin occurs when the breasts swell as a result of fluid buildup within the breasts. A combination of breast heaviness, burning, aching, increase in breast size and tenderness can signal inflammatory breast cancer.

Breast Infection

Women with a breast infection may experience swollen breasts, according to Medline Plus. Breast infections occur when a common bacteria found on the skin called Staphylococcus aureus enters the body through a break or crack in the skin, usually on the nipple. Infected fatty breast tissue can push on a woman’s milk ducts causing her breasts to swell and triggering painful lumps in the infected breasts. Women who breast-feed may experience breast infections due to blocked milk ducts.

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