Does Pain in the Breast Mean Cancer?


Breast pain, also known as Mastalgia, is not at all uncommon in women. Most will have it at some point in their lives. In women under 30, the pain is usually associated with their monthly cycle. Older women are likely to have more consistent breast pain. The majority of the time, this pain is benign (non-cancerous).


Lumps in the breast that are cancerous are usually not painful. Benign lumps–like fibroadenomas and those from fibrocystic breast disease–are more often the ones that cause pain. Fluid-filled cysts are also not malignant and may cause pain. While inflammatory breast cancer can cause pain, it is rare and is also accompanied by redness and inflammation, as well as a breast that is warm to the touch.

Common Causes

In addition to the benign lumps that may cause pain in the breast, there are many other causes. Hormone changes from puberty, pregnancy and menopause may cause breast pain. Even the hormonal fluctuation of a menstrual cycle can bring on breast pain. Discomfort can even be brought on by an ill-fitting bra or not wearing a sports bra during exercise. An injury to the breast can also be painful.

In the Chest

It is possible that breast pain is not actually in the breast. Sore muscles from exercise can cause breast pain. Costochondritis is a condition characterized by inflammation of the cartilage between the ribs and the breastbone. It can cause pain (with burning) that feels like it is coming from the breast. Another possibility is shingles, a painful condition caused by the chickenpox virus, which presents a rash under the breast while the pain is felt in the breast.


If breast pain is accompanied by fever, swelling or nipple discharge, see a health professional, as it could indicate an infection or other problem that requires treatment. Pain with shortness of breath may indicate a lung ailment like pneumonia or bronchitis. If you have pain that radiates to the shoulder, seek immediate attention as it could be an indication of a heart attack.


No breast pain should be ignored. While the odds are that it is not cancer, you should tell your doctor about the pain and its frequency. To help with a diagnosis, do regular breast self-exams. Keep notes if the pain worsens at certain times of your monthly cycle or breast lumps change in size. Also, keep up a regular schedule of mammograms as advised by your doctor.

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