Most cases of breast pain are classified as either cyclic or noncyclic. Each type of breast pain has distinct characteristics.

Breast pain characteristics

Cyclic breast pain Noncyclic breast pain
  • Clearly related to the menstrual cycle
  • Described as dull, heavy or aching
  • Often accompanied by breast swelling or lumpiness
  • Usually affects both breasts, particularly the upper, outer portions, and can radiate to the underarm
  • Intensifies during the two weeks leading up to the start of your period, then eases up afterward
  • More likely to affect women in their 20s and 30s before menopause as well as women in their 40s who are transitioning to menopause
  • Unrelated to the menstrual cycle
  • Described as tight, burning or sore
  • Constant or intermittent
  • Usually affects one breast, in a localized area, but may spread more diffusely across the breast
  • Most likely to affect women after menopause

Extramammary breast pain

The term extramammary means "outside the breast." Extramammary breast pain feels like it starts in the breast, but its source is actually somewhere else. Pulling a muscle in your chest, for example, can cause pain in your chest wall or rib cage.

When to see a doctor

Make an appointment with your doctor if breast pain:

  • Persists daily for more than a couple of weeks
  • Occurs in one specific area of your breast
  • Seems to be getting worse over time
  • Interferes with daily activities

Although breast cancer risk is low in women whose main symptom is breast pain, if your doctor recommends an evaluation, it's important to follow through.

Sept. 17, 2015