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Breast Symptoms

Is this your symptom?

  • Concerns about breast symptoms.
  • Symptoms include breast lumps, pain, redness and changes in how the breast looks or feels.

Key Points

  • Regular screening tests (mammograms) for breast cancer are the best way to find breast cancer early. Detecting breast cancer early can save lives.
  • Women should also become familiar with how their breasts look and feel. Monthly self-breast exams can help you detect changes.
  • See your doctor if you have a new lump, bloody nipple discharge, or inverted nipple. These could be signs of breast cancer. Also see your doctor if find if there is a change in how your breast looks or feels.
  • The risk of breast cancer increases with age. Women are also at higher risk if they have a mother or sister who had breast cancer.
  • Many women have breast pain and fullness before their monthly menstrual cycle. These symptoms can usually be treated at home.

Breast Symptoms and Causes

  • Breast lump: fibroadenoma, cyst, cancer
  • Chronic breast pain (not related to monthly periods; usually just on one side): fibroadenoma or cyst
  • Gradual increase in breast fullness and tenderness in both breasts: pregnancy (in women in child-bearing age group)
  • Nipple inversion (turns inward): mastitis, cancer; it can also be normal if present since birth
  • Nipple skin scaling or peeling: eczema, Paget's type breast cancer
  • Nipple discharge: pregnancy and lactation (breastfeeding), intraductal papilloma, cancer, galactorrhea, certain medicines, endocrine problems, mastitis. Nipple discharge is often not harmful. Pus-like discharge may be a sign of an infection. Bloody discharge is more concerning. So is discharge that occurs spontaneously (when not squeezing or stimulating the breast). These suggest the cause may be more serious.
  • Recurrent (cyclic) breast pain: premenstrual syndrome
  • Redness or rash under breast skin folds: intertrigo (skin rash due to skin irritation and rubbing).
  • Sudden onset breast pain with redness and warmth: mastitis, abscess, or cellulitis

Mammogram and Breast Exam Recommendations

Mammograms are a special type of x-ray that checks for signs of cancer. Routine screening with mammograms is the best way to find breast cancer early. Detecting breast cancer early saves lives.

  • Women age 40 to 50 years: A mammogram is recommended every 1 to 2 years.
  • Women age 50 years and older: A mammogram is recommended every year.
  • High-Risk Women: You are at risk if your sister or mother had breast cancer. Your doctor may recommend you get your first mammogram in your 30s. Talk with your doctor.

Your doctor should also perform a breast exam during your routine physical. From age 20 to 40 years, this should be done every 2 to 3 years. After age 40, this should be done every year.

When to Call for Breast Symptoms

Call Doctor or Seek Care Now

  • Breast looks infected (spreading redness, feels hot or painful to touch) and fever
  • Breast pain and fever
  • You feel weak or very sick
  • You think you need to be seen, and the problem is urgent

Call Doctor Within 24 Hours

  • Breast looks infected (spreading redness, feels hot or painful to touch) and no fever
  • Many small blisters grouped together across breast or side of chest
  • You think you need to be seen, but the problem is not urgent

Call Doctor During Office Hours

  • Breast lump
  • Nipple discharge
  • Nipple is inverted (points inward)
  • Dry flaking-peeling skin of nipple
  • Change in shape or appearance of breast
  • Dimpling of skin of breast (skin looks like the outside of an orange peel)
  • Breast implants and pain or other concerns
  • Red, moist, irritated skin underneath breasts (in women with larger breasts)
  • Breast tenderness or fullness and pregnant
  • Breast pain and cause is not known
  • You have other questions or concerns

Self Care at Home

  • Breast tenderness and fullness and pregnancy suspected or possible
  • Breast pain or tenderness and occurs monthly before menstrual period
  • Question about screening tests for breast cancer

Home Care Advice

Breast Pain and Tenderness with Menstrual Periods

  1. What You Should Know:
    • Many women have some breast pain or fullness before their menstrual cycle.
    • Breast pain and tenderness alone are rarely a sign of breast cancer.
    • You can usually treat these symptoms at home.
    • Here is some care advice that should help.
  2. Pain Medicine:
    • You can take one of the following drugs if you have pain: acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve).
    • They are over-the-counter (OTC) pain drugs. You can buy them at the drugstore.
    • Use the lowest amount of a drug that makes your pain feel better.
    • Do not take this ibuprofen or naproxen if you are pregnant.
    • Read the instructions and warnings on the package insert for all medicines you take.
  3. Warm or Cold Compresses:
    • Some women find warm or cold compresses helpful.
    • Put a warm or cool wet washcloth on the tender breasts for 10-15 minutes at time.
    • Repeat every few hours as needed.
  4. Wear a Good Bra:
    • Wear a good quality supportive bra.
    • This is more important when you exercise or if you have larger breasts.
    • Some women are more comfortable wearing a bra when sleeping.
  5. Avoid Caffeine, Salt, and Alcohol:
    • Drinks that contain caffeine (coffee, sodas) can make symptoms worse. So can salty foods and alcohol.
    • Try to avoid these things, especially 1 to 2 weeks before your monthly period.
  6. Manage Stress:
    • Some women find stress makes premenstrual breast tenderness worse.
    • Find ways to manage stress such as relaxation, meditation, and going for walks.
  7. Pregnancy Test, When in Doubt:
    • If there is a chance that you might be pregnant, use a urine pregnancy test.
    • You can buy a pregnancy test at the drugstore.
    • It works best first thing in the morning.
    • Follow all package instructions.
  8. What to expect:
    • Premenstrual breast pain usually starts several days before the menstrual period. It may last a few days to a week or more.
    • The breasts may feel heavy, full and achy.
    • The pain can be mild to more severe.
    • The pain may come and go during a woman's childbearing years.
  9. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Fever or redness occurs
    • You feel a lump
    • Change in how breast looks or feels
    • You think you need to be seen
    • You get worse

Breast Fullness and Tenderness as a Sign of Pregnancy

  1. What You Should Know:
    • Breast fullness and tenderness can sometimes be a sign of pregnancy.
    • Here is some care advice that should help.
  2. Pregnancy Test, When in Doubt:
    • If there is a chance that you might be pregnant, use a urine pregnancy test.
    • You can buy a pregnancy test at the drugstore.
    • It works best first thing in the morning.
    • Follow all package instructions.
  3. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Pregnancy test is positive
    • You have trouble with the at-home test
    • You think you need to be seen
    • You get worse

Breast Cancer Screening

  1. Mammograms:
    • Routine screening mammograms are the best way to find breast cancer early. Detecting breast cancer early saves lives.
    • Talk to your doctor about how often you should have a mammogram.
    • Most women age 40 to 50 years should have a mammogram every 1 to 2 years. Women over age 50 years should have one every year. If you are at higher risk for breast cancer, your doctor may recommend starting to screen at a younger age.
  2. How to do breast exam:
    • Become familiar with how your breasts look and feel. Do a breast exam every month. The best time is before your menstrual period.
    • Use your eyes and a wall mirror: Look for any changes in your breasts, nipples, or skin.
    • Use your fingers: Lie down. Put your left hand behind your head. With your right hand press your breast against the chest wall. Use circular movements. Check the entire breast and your armpit for any lumps or unusual fullness.
    • Repeat the same steps on the other breast.
    • See your doctor if you feel or see any change in your breasts.
  3. Call Your Doctor If:
    • You feel a lump
    • Change in how breast looks or feels
    • You think you need to be seen
    • You get worse

And remember, contact your doctor if you develop any of the 'Call Your Doctor' symptoms.

Disclaimer: this health information is for educational purposes only. You, the reader, assume full responsibility for how you choose to use it.


Last Reviewed: 9/21/2019 1:00:22 AM
Last Updated: 3/14/2019 1:00:22 AM

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