For many women, some of the most common questions about breast health and breast cancer relate to pain and lumps. Here’s what you need to know:

Breast Pain

Most women experience breast pain at some point in their lives. Breast pain can range from mild to severe and may persist temporarily or regularly based on age, hormonal changes and other factors. “The most important thing to remember is that most breast pain is typically not caused by breast cancer,” says Surupa Sen Gupta, MD, a breast care specialist and surgeon with Adventist HealthCare.   Any pain associated with breast cancer is typically mild, localized, constant and usually felt in only one breast. New lumps and painless swelling are the most common symptoms of breast cancer.

Here are some common breast pain symptoms to be aware of and what may be causing the pain:

  • Soreness and Discomfort: This may be caused by hormonal variation that is related to menstrual cycle changes, puberty, menopause, using birth control pills and pregnancy.
  • Painful Lumps and Tenderness: Lumps frequently arise from fibrocystic changes. The changes cause fluid-filled cysts to form in your breast and lead to tenderness. These symptoms will generally improve and do not heighten your risk for cancer.
  • Nipple Pain: This type of pain can often be attributed to the sensitive nerve endings in that area. Nipple pain symptoms will often improve quickly and are generally unrelated to breast cancer.
  • Underarm Pain: This pain is usually the result of musculoskeletal issues or irritation in the sweat and hair glands.

Breast Lumps

Breast lumps can be caused by:

  • Hormonal variation
  • Early pregnancy
  • Cysts
  • Normal fibroglandular elements like the lumpy glands that produce milk or the normal fat in breasts.

The best way to understand the normal lumps and bumps in your breasts is to perform regular self-breast exams, states Dr. Sen Gupta. “Self-exams can help you understand what your breasts feel like and could alert you to any changes. Talk with your physician if you have any lumps that concern you or any lumps that are persistent, not improving or increasing in size. ”

Lumps caused by breast cancer are often so tiny that you may not feel them as part of a self-exam. That is why mammograms are still the most important tool for detecting breast cancer early. “Mammograms help detect small lumps early, increasing the chances of survival and treatment options,” states Sonya Kella, director of Women’s Imaging with Adventist HealthCare.

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