When a woman has breast pain during menopause, it can be an uncomfortable and disconcerting symptom. Many women fear a more serious underlying cause, such as breast cancer. However, breast cancer is a very rare cause of breast pain in menopause; in most cases, the cause of breast pain is hormone fluctuations.
Nevertheless, many women have questions about breast pain during menopause. Discovering the answers to such questions is the best place to begin when trying to manage this common menopause symptom. Here are the answers to the most frequently asked questions about breast pain in menopause.
Q: What Is Breast Pain?
A: Breast pain - known medically as mastalgia, mastodynia, or mammalgia - is the general term used to mean discomfort, tenderness, or pain in one or both of the breasts. Breast pain can be constant or intermittent. It may be generalized to the whole breast area or localized in one specific area.
Q: Is Breast Pain Normal during Menopause?
A: Breast pain is a common complaint, affecting as many as 70% of women at some point in their lives. Only a small percentage of these women, about 10%, will experience severe breast pain, which can have a significant impact on relationships, work, and daily life. Breast pain is normal and common in perimenopause, or the years leading up to the cessation of menstruation.
Q: Could Breast Pain Mean Breast Cancer?
A: Rarely. It is important to know that breast pain is seldom a signal of breast cancer. According to medical research, only 2 - 7% of women with breast cancer will experience breast pain as a symptom of cancer.
Q: What Are the Different Types of Breast Pain?
A: There are three main types of breast pain. Most cases of breast pain are classified as either cyclic or non-cyclic. However, in some cases, breast discomfort can be classified as extramammary, because the origin of the pain is outside of the breast itself.
The most common type of breast pain in menopause is cyclic breast pain, which is related to hormone levels. This type often affects women in their 40s and 50s in the months or years before menopause. Non-cyclic breast pain and extramammary pain are unrelated to hormones. Non-cyclic breast pain is most common during postmenopause, or after the permanent cessation of menstrual periods.
Q: What Are the Symptoms of Breast Pain?
A: The symptoms of breast pain depend on how the pain is classified. The following chart shows the symptoms of breast pain based on type.
Symptoms of Cyclical Breast Pain
- Breast dullness, heaviness, or aching
- Breast swelling or lumpiness
- Sharp breast pain
- Burning sensations
- Breast tenderness
- Both breasts usually affected
Symptoms of Non-cyclical Breast Pain
- Breast tightness
- Breast burning
- Breast soreness
- Breast swelling
- Sharp pains
- Breast tenderness
- Usually experienced in one breast or one area
- Can be constant or intermittent
Extramammary pain, which originates outside the breast, often accompanies more general pain or discomfort in the armpit, chest, and neck area.
Q: When Should a Woman Speak with Her Doctor?
- Breast pain is persistent
- Pain gets worse with time
- Pain interferes with daily life
- Nipple discharge is present
- Signs of infection, i.e., fever, local redness
- Localized pain in one area of the breast
A: Any woman who is concerned about breast pain during menopause can benefit from speaking with her healthcare provider. However, in certain cases, it is more crucial that a woman seek medical attention. A woman should call her doctor about breast pain in the following instances:
Q: What Causes Breast Pain during Menopause?
A: Hormonal change is the most likely cause of cyclical breast pain and tenderness during menopause. During the menopausal transition, fluctuations in estrogen and progesterone levels can lead some women to experience breast pain. These two main hormones can also impact the levels of other hormones.
Q: What Else Can Cause Breast Pain?
A: While hormonal changes are the number-one cause of breast pain in menopause, other factors can cause or contribute to breast pain. These are often non-cyclical causes of breast pain, which are less common in menopausal women.
- Breast cysts
- Breast trauma
- Prior breast surgery
- Breast size
- Oral contraceptive use
- Hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
- Cholesterol and heart drugs
Q: What Factors Make Breast Pain Worse?
Dietary Triggers for Breast Pain
- High salt intake
- Fatty foods
A: Lifestyle factors, such as diet and stress, can also contribute to breast tenderness and pain during menopause. Studies show that cyclical breast pain, not uncommon in menopause, can be made worse due to certain food and drink choices. Emotional stress and prolonged inactivity can also worsen breast pain during menopause.
Q: Does Breast Pain Stop After Menopause?
A: The cyclical breast pain that can develop in the years or months before menopause will often cease to be a problem once menopause has occurred. However, some women may experience breast pain after menopause. This type of breast pain is not usually attributed to hormonal imbalance and may have other causes. Women who experience breast pain after menopause should speak with a medical professional to rule out any rare, but serious, causes.
Q: How Can Breast Pain Be Relieved?
A: Fortunately, a number of self-care measures can help relieve breast pain during menopause. These include:
- Lymphatic massage
- Increasing exercise
- Avoiding dietary triggers
- Breast support via padding or good bra
- Ice packs
- Visualization and relaxation methods
While these can help reduce the severity of breast pain, they alone cannot reach the root problem of hormonal imbalance. Read on to learn more about treatment options that can address the hormonal imbalance of menopause.
Q: Is Breast Pain Treatment Available?
A: Along with self-care methods, natural therapies are a safe and effective method of relieving breast pain by targeting the root cause of hormonal imbalance. Women generally begin with the least invasive methods of hormone balancing via natural therapies, moving on to medical treatments only if necessary. The majority of women find that a combination of self-care and natural therapies are the best way to address breast pain in menopause.
What Are the Best Ways to Cope with Breast Pain?
Three approaches can be considered for treating breast pain: lifestyle changes, alternative remedies, and medications and surgery. Most experts recommend that women begin with the least aggressive approach and move to the next level of treatment only if symptoms persist. Click on treatments for breast pain to discover the best route to relief.
- Love, S. (2003). Menopause and Hormone Book. New York: Three Rivers Press.
- National Health Service UK. (2014). Breast pain. Retrieved April 18, 2016, from http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/breastpaincyclical/Pages/Introduction.aspx
- Office on Women's Health. (2012). Menopause and menopause treatments fact sheet. Retrieved April 18, 2016, from http://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/menopause-treatment.html