PUBLISHED ON: 5 November 2020

Many women worry about breast pain. But, as Clinical Nurse Specialist Addie Mitchell explains, on its own breast pain is rarely a sign of cancer. 

woman with breast pain

Breast pain is very common  

We often get calls to our Helpline from women who are worried because they’re experiencing pain in their breasts.  

Their biggest worry is that the pain is a sign of breast cancer.  

However, breast pain on its own is highly unlikely to be caused by cancer. 

Why might breasts be painful? 

When someone calls our Helpline to ask about breast pain, the first thing we try to do is to ascertain when they get pain. 

For example, breast pain can be linked to the menstrual cycle. This type of pain, known as cyclical breast pain, affects up to two-thirds of women, with one in ten women having moderate to severe pain.  

The pain is linked to changing hormone levels during the menstrual cycle, and it often goes away once a period starts. 

Breast pain can have other causes too. For example, an injury to the breast or some benign (not cancer) conditions can cause pain.  

Stress and anxiety can also be linked to breast pain. So if you’re worrying about cancer, this could also contribute. 

When to contact your GP about breast pain 

We always recommend speaking to your GP if you have breast pain that’s new and isn’t going away.  

A GP should ask you about your symptoms, for example: How often does the pain occur? How long does it last for? Is the pain in one or both breasts? Do you feel the pain all over the breast or in one specific area? 

You might be asked to keep an eye on the pain for a while or to fill in a simple pain chart. This can help identify the nature and timing of your pain. 

Managing the pain 

There’s no magic cure for breast pain, but there may be some things that can help.  

Evidence shows that being given a clear explanation and reassurance after a thorough assessment by a GP helps a significant number of women (75–85%) with breast pain symptoms, with no further treatment being needed. 

Simple measures such as wearing a well-supporting bra have been shown to be very effective in reducing breast pain. 

Pain relief, such as an anti-inflammatory drug like ibuprofen, might help. 

You can find out more about treating and coping with breast pain on our breast pain page

Although breast pain is common, it can still cause worry, upset and affect your lifestyle.  

If you’re worried or have questions about breast pain or any other breast symptom, call us free on 0808 800 6000

Breast pain