Breast Pain

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A note on terms

Everyone has breast tissue and people of all genders can get breast cancer. To be clear and consistent, we use the word ‘breasts’ in our health information, rather than boobs, pecs or chest. When we say breasts, we mean the tissue from your rib cage up to your collarbone and armpits, including your nipples.

Breast pain (mastalgia) is very common. There are lots of reasons why you might have breast pain, but on its own it is very rarely a sign of breast cancer.

There are two types of breast pain:

  1. Cyclical
  2. Non-cyclical


Cyclical Breast Pain

Cyclical breast pain is pain that is related to the menstrual cycle. It is very common and perfectly natural, but you don’t have to put up with it if it is very painful. This type of breast pain affects people who have periods (menstruate), and is related to the hormones that control periods (your menstrual cycle). Cyclical pain usually happens around the time of your period, commonly starting around 3-7 days before your period starts, and it can last up to 2 weeks.

Here are some ways to relieve cyclical breast pain:

  • Eat a balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables.
  • Take 30 minutes of exercise every day.
  • Reduce your caffeine intake before your period.
  • Try taking Evening Primrose Oil – ask your GP first.
  • If you wear a bra, make sure it is a correctly fitting bra.


Non-Cyclical Breast Pain

Non-cyclical breast pain is not related to your periods, and is most common in women over 40. Too much caffeine, poor posture or injury to your breast tissue could be causes of non-cyclical breast pain. Sometimes, pain in this area might not be in your breast tissue at all, but instead in your chest wall, pectoral muscles or ribs. Talk to your GP if you are concerned.

Here are some ways to relieve non-cyclical breast pain:

  • If you wear a bra, make sure it is a correctly fitting bra.
  • Try taking Evening Primrose Oil – although this is less effective than with cyclical breast pain. Ask your GP first.
  • Take 30 minutes of exercise every day.
  • Reduce your caffeine intake.
  • If the pain is in one area of the chest wall, an anti-inflammatory cream might help. Ask your GP first.


When To See Your GP

Book an appointment with your GP if:

  • The pain is not improving or painkillers are not helping.
  • You have a very high temperature or feel hot and shivery.
  • Any part of your breast is red, hot or swollen or you are experiencing any other breast cancer symptoms. 
  • Your breast pain is in one specific spot only.
  • There’s a history of breast cancer in your family.
Understanding Breast Pain From The Royal Marsden

This information was published in April 2021. We will revise it in 2024.


Signs and Symptoms

Find out more about the signs and symptoms of primary breast cancer below.

Find out more