Breast Lumps and Pain
Breast Lumps and Pain Overview
Breast changes are common. From the time a girl begins to develop breasts, begins menstruating and throughout life, women may experience various kinds of breast pain and other breast changes. Some of these changes normally occur during the menstrual cycle, during pregnancy, and with aging. Breast lumps, tenderness, and other changes may occur. Most breast lumps and other changes are not cancer.
The breast is composed of several glands and ducts that lead to the nipple and the surrounding colored area called the areola. The milk-carrying ducts extend from the nipple into the underlying breast tissue like the spokes of a wheel. Under the areola are lactiferous ducts. These fill with milk during lactation after a woman has a baby. When a girl reaches puberty, changing levels of hormones cause the ducts to grow and cause fat deposits in the breast tissue to increase. The glands that produce milk (mammary glands) that are connected to the surface of the breast by the lactiferous ducts may extend to the armpit area (axilla).
There are no muscles in the breasts, but muscles lie under each breast and cover the ribs. These normal structures inside the breasts can sometimes make them feel lumpy. Such lumpiness may be especially noticeable in women who are thin or who have small breasts.
- Lumps within breast tissue are usually found unexpectedly or during a routine monthly breast self-exam. Most lumps are not cancer but represent changes within the breast tissue. As your breasts develop, changes occur. These changes are influenced by normal hormonal variations.
- Breast pain is a common breast problem in younger women who are still having their periods, and happens less often in older women. Although pain is a concern, breast pain is rarely the only symptom of breast cancer. Most breast cancers involve a mass or lump.
- Cyclic mastalgia: About two-thirds of women with breast pain have a problem called cyclic mastalgia. This pain typically is worse before your menstrual cycle and usually is relieved at the time your period begins. The pain may also happen in varying degrees throughout the cycle. Because of its relationship to the menstrual cycle, it is believed to be caused by hormonal changes. This type of breast pain usually happens in younger women, although the condition has been reported in postmenopausal women who take hormone replacement therapy.
- Noncyclic mastalgia: Breast pain that is not associated with the menstrual cycle is called noncyclic mastalgia. It occurs less often than the cyclic form. It typically occurs in women older than 40 years and is not related to the menstrual cycle. It is sometimes linked to a fibrous mass (called a fibroadenoma) or a cyst.
- Breast pain or tenderness may also occur in a teenage boy. The condition, called gynecomastia, is enlargement of the male breast which may occur as a normal part of development, often during puberty.
- Breast infection: The breast is made up of hundreds of tiny milk-producing sacs called alveoli. They are arranged in grapelike clusters throughout the breast. Once breastfeeding begins, milk is produced in the alveoli and secreted into tube-shaped milk ducts that empty through the nipple. Mastitis is an infection of the tissue of the breast that occurs most frequently during the time of breastfeeding. This infection causes pain, swelling, redness, and increased temperature of the breast. It can occur when bacteria, often from the baby's mouth, enter a milk duct. This causes an infection and painful inflammation of the breast.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/27/2014
M Ruby Alvi, MD, CCFP, MHSc
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