Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
Many possible causes exist for pain or tenderness in one
of your breasts or in both breasts. Most often the pain can be attributed to
harmless causes such as puberty or pregnancy. It can also be a recurrent problem for women with
cyclical pain associated with the menstrual cycle. Although cancer is a major
concern for most women, it is rarely the cause of isolated breast pain.
An infection in the breast (breast
If you have a lump in your breast, your doctor will check for the
Fibrocystic changes: Fibrocystic changes,
previously called Fibrocystic Disease, are the most common benign or
harmless (does not threaten health or life) condition of the breast. Changes
can occur in one or both breasts, most commonly in the upper and outer
sections. You may feel a thickening of the fibrous tissue that supports your
glands. Common lumps, called fibroadenomas, occur during the reproductive
years. They feel rubbery and movable. They often occur with fibrocystic
Breast cysts are fluid-filled lumps. They can be tender, especially
before your period.
Breast cancer: Some lumps may be cancer. Breast
cancer is usually associated with the risk factors of age, genetics, or hormones. About 75% of
breast cancers occur in women older than 50 years, 23% occur in women ages 30 to 50
years, and 2% occur in women under 30 years of age.
Genetics is believed to play a role if your mother
or sister (referred to as first-degree relatives) were diagnosed with breast
cancer before menopause. You have a two to three times higher risk than the
general population of developing breast cancer.
Hormonal factors may play a role. If you have had
the following conditions, you may have an increased incidence of breast
cancer (possibly because of longer exposure to a hormone called estrogen).
Had your first period at an early age
Had menopause at a later age
Have never had a child or your first pregnancy
was after age 30
Cancer may also be explained by one of many
theories including exposure to viruses, chemicals, radiation, dietary
factors, and genes (for example, BRCA-1). No single theory explains all
types of breast cancer.