Common Breast Problems

Breast Pain

The most common type of breast pain is caused by the hormones that control the menstrual period – that is oestrogen and progesterone. These hormonal changes can cause pain in both breasts several days before the menstrual period begins. Using hormonal contraception or taking HRT can also cause breast pain. Because the pain can come and go with the menstrual cycle, it is called “cyclical” breast pain. Cyclical breast pain is not usually caused by breast cancer or other serious breast problems.

Less commonly, a woman may have non-cyclical breast pain; i.e. pain which is not related to the menstrual cycle and can occur in only one breast or one area of the breast. Non-cyclical breast pain is usually caused by a problem outside the breast. Conditions such as muscle strain, skin injury, spinal conditions, or problems in another organ system (e.g. heart burn, chest pain) are common causes.

Measures you can try to help relieve breast pain:

  • Take pain relief medications, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen. Women with very severe breast pain may be treated with a prescription medication
  • Decrease the dose or stop taking medications that contain oestrogen
  • Wear a well-fitted support or sports bra.
  • Use stretching exercises, especially if you have neck or spinal causes of breast pain.
  • Dietary changes or dietary supplements for breast pain may be helpful in some women. The avoidance of tea, coffee and cola drinks have helped some women. Reducing your salt and sugar intake can also be of benefit.
  • Try using Vitamin B6 supplements or evening primrose oil.

Nipple Dischage

Nipple discharge is common and almost always not a problem. Galactorrhoea is the term given to milky discharge. Most commonly this is seen in women while they are breastfeeding and for up to one year after they stop breastfeeding. It can also be seen in women with an under active thyroid gland (hypothyroidism) and less commonly in women with an increased production of a hormone called prolactin which is made in the pituitary gland in the brain.

Secretions can often be squeezed out of glands within the breast on to the surface and they can be white, green or brown. This is considered normal.

Spontaneous nipple discharge (discharge that occurs without squeezing) or nipple discharge that is clear or bloody may be caused by an abnormal growth within the breast, or less commonly, by breast cancer.


Cysts are fluid filled sacs which can develop within breast tissue. They are most commonly seen in women aged 35-50. They tend to disappear after the menopause. Cysts are a cause of pain and swelling but are not serious. Several cysts can occur at the same time. Sometimes a needle is inserted into the cyst and the fluid removed to relieve pain. Cysts should always be checked out by your doctor to ensure that they are not a cancerous lump. They can recur in the same spot.


These are also known as breast mice. They are benign lumps of glandular and fibrous tissue. They feel smooth and rubbery. They are seen primarily in women aged 20-40. They usually cause no problems other than some tenderness before your period. As with all breast lumps you should have them checked out by your doctor.

Breast and Nipple Infections

Inflammation or infection in your nipples can be related to eczema. This is a common skin condition which causes dryness and occasionally infection. However, occasionally skin changes on the breast or nipple can be a sign of underlying breast cancer, so you should always get it checked by your doctor.

Infection in the breast itself is also known as mastitis. Mastitis presents as a sore, red tender area in the breast. It is usually associated with breast feeding but can also occur in non-breastfeeding women. It responds well to hot or cold packs applied to the area. Sometimes antibiotics are required. For breastfeeding mums, it is important not to stop breastfeeding from that breast and to position the baby in such a way as to empty that particular part of the breast thoroughly.

Inverted Nipples

Inverted nipples are a common finding. They can be present from birth or they can occur after breastfeeding a child. However if you have a nipple that has turned in on itself for no obvious reason, you should have it checked out by your doctor. Occasionally this can indicate an underlying breast cancer.