Breast pain

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

You can:

  • 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, which 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 - which can cause breast pain along with other symptoms
  • pregnancy - breast pain can be an early symptom

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 you:

  • are worried it’s not improving or painkillers aren’t helping
  • have a very high temperature, or you feel hot and shivery
  • any part of your breast is red, hot or swollen
  • have a family history of breast cancer
  • have any symptoms of pregnancy - you could do a pregnancy test first

Ask for an urgent 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 changes 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.

Call 111

If you can’t speak to your GP or don’t know what to do next.

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