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Published on June 11, 2018

woman with breast pain

Why Breasts May Feel Sensitive

Breast pain and tenderness is common for many women. Statistics show that 70-80 percent of women will experience breast pain at some point in their lifetime. There are many causes for breast pain.

Breast pain is often linked to menstrual cycle and hormonal changes. But while pain can be common, it’s usually not related to breast cancer.

“Tenderness or pain is infrequently tied to breast cancer diagnosis,” said Traci Redmond, CNP, Avera Medical Group Comprehensive Breast Care. “Pain and cancer can be related in cases of inflammatory breast cancer, but it is a less-common form of cancer. In most cases, tenderness and pain are part of life for women, but not indicators of a serious problem. However, if the discomfort is ongoing persisting more than a few weeks it should be evaluated by a medical professional.”

A Common Situation

Redmond said that more than half of patients who schedule appointments with her report some tenderness or pain in their breasts. Cyclic pain, reported shortly before, during or after a period, is one common category.

“Hormones can be at the root of the pain or tenderness. When hormone levels rise, so too can rates of tissue growth on a cellular level, which can lead to swelling, pain and tenderness,” said Redmond.

Other times, breast pain doesn’t have anything to do with hormones or monthly cycles.

“Musculoskeletal pain from overdoing it also can be the cause,” Redmond said. “Performing a new exercise, moving heavy furniture or stretching wrong can be linked to breast pain. However, in these instances the origin of the pain is actually in the muscles located underneath the breasts.”

Elusive Reasons Why

In many cases, your provider might not have an exact reason for the cause of the breast discomfort. When a patient comes in with breast pain concerns, Redmond said she’ll ask a number of questions to help determine the cause. Those questions include frequency, duration and location of the breast pain as well as any possible associated symptoms.

“Ruling out the possibility of cancer with a clinical breast exam and possible breast imaging is priority,” Redmond said. “Once concerning abnormalities are ruled out, treatment options to relieve symptoms are discussed, and they can include compression wear, such as a well-fitted sport bra or camisole. Oftentimes wearing this compression day and night is recommended.”

She said anti-inflammatory medications such as Ibuprofen or Motrin, and supplemental vitamins such as B and E, or the use of evening primrose oil, all can help take away that modest or minor pain.

Communication is Key

It’s also important to discuss any pain with your provider and to make sure you mention of all the medications or supplements you may use as sometimes, they may make breast tissue more sensitive,” she said. “Being aware of subtle changes and working directly with your health care provider is the best advice I can give to any woman who has pain or tenderness in their breasts.”

When you talk to your provider, you can team up to make sure it’s treated properly, whether it’s something serious or something that is discomforting.

“Like many things, timing is important,” Redmond added. “So we encourage all women to be aware of the changes and work with their providers to make sure everything is OK.”

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