Breast Health Pain Tenderness

Breast pain is a common female ailment. Also known as “mastalgia,” breast pain can be divided into two main groups: cyclical and non-cyclical. Learn how cyclical breast pain is a direct result of the menstrual cycle, while non-cyclical breast pain is not.

Cyclical Breast Pain

Cyclical breast pain, which accounts for the vast majority of breast pain complaints, typically affects women of reproductive age around the time of menstruation. During a woman’s menstrual cycle, estrogen and progesterone stimulate the breasts to retain water–and the milk glands and ducts to enlarge in case of a pregnancy. This can result in cyclical breast pain.

Breasts may feel just slightly tender, or the pain may be much more severe. This hormonal pain can affect one or both breasts and can radiate out to the armpit, arm or shoulder blade. Cyclical breast pain usually stops after menopause. In some cases, hormonal birth control methods or certain prescription drugs may aggravate cyclical breast pain.

Although most women don’t receive treatment for cyclical breast pain, talk to your doctor if the pain is severe. Your doctor may prescribe hormone therapy or suggest certain dietary changes.

Non-cyclical Pain in Breast

Non-cyclical breast pain could result from any number of factors, including:

  • Alcoholism and related liver damage
  • Benign tumors
  • Breast infections (i.e. mastitis)
  • Breast injury
  • Certain prescription medications
  • Costochondritis (pain felt in the breastbone)
  • Cysts
  • Fatty acid imbalance
  • Hormonal birth control methods
  • Hormone therapy
  • Unrelated conditions (such as angina or gallstones)
  • Weight gain.

Non-cyclical pain usually affects just one breast, but the pain may radiate and be felt in both breasts.

Does Breast Pain Mean Breast Cancer?

Generally, breast pain isn’t a symptom of breast cancer. Nevertheless, talk to your doctor about any concerns you may have about breast pain. If you feel any suspicious lumps or any significant changes in your breasts during a breast self-exam, consult your doctor immediately.

You should also call your doctor if you notice any of the following symptoms:

  • Breast skin changes
  • Nipple discharge, particularly blood or pus
  • Painful breast lumps that don’t go away after your period
  • Signs of infection (such as localized redness and fever)
  • Swollen or hard breasts a week after giving birth.


Breast Cancer Care. (n.d.) Non-cyclical breast pain. Retrieved November 18 2010, from

Imaginis Corporation. (2010). Breast pain. Retrieved November 18, 2010, from

Mayo Clinic. (2010). Breast pain. Retrieved November 18, 2010, from