Boob pain for Xmas
December 22, 2013 8:51 AM   Subscribe

Basically what it says on the tin. I've been having a bit of an achy right breast for a while now. Help me calm down between now and my mammogram in two weeks.

YANMD, etc.

I noticed the pain a couple of weeks ago. I couldn't pinpoint a location, and I couldn't find a lump. It was basically "it aches most of the time; when I poke around, it aches more." When it hadn't gone away after about a week, I called my doctor's office and scheduled a mammogram, which is now about two weeks off.

Since then, the pain has faded a bit. I started to think maybe the pain had gone away, but my poking at it had prolonged the symptom. But tonight I noticed it hurting again. This time, I was able to pinpoint a location of where it aches most, and when I press on it, it hurts quite intensely. I found what felt like a lump, maybe? But my breasts are pretty lumpy, and when I felt for it again just now I couldn't find it. The location of the pain is somewhere just behind my aureola, a bit to the right. It's not in the chest wall - definitely in the fleshy part of my breast.

As I said, I've already scheduled a mammogram. I'm just looking for a little peace of mind in the meantime. It's the holidays, and I really don't want to spend them scared I might have breast cancer. The internet seems evenly split between "pain means it's unlikely to be cancer" vs "pain tells you nothing."

I have two questions. First - it seems pretty clear that my options are "benign cyst" or "breast cancer." Does the intensity of the pain when I push the spot, or the location of the pain, mean it's more likely to be one or the other? Second - since there's no real way to be sure, what can I do between now and the mammogram to help me be less scared?

posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (24 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I feel like jumping to mammogram right away was a bit of overreaction. Can't you just see your doctor for a breast exam?
posted by hazel79 at 8:55 AM on December 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

It could also just be an infection! Breasts do get them and they are horribly painful and they can have localized pain depending on what tissue gets all inflamed first. It all goes away with a round of antibiotics usually :) Much less serious than cancer or a cyst, yes?
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 8:57 AM on December 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

could you mail the mods and give us your age and whether or not the pain seems to correlate to parts of your cycle?

i get intense pains in my left breast during ovulation and the swell up to my period. i've gotten a bunch of exams on my (large, lumpy-ish) breasts and the doctors have all said "that happens, drink less caffeine." so far i've just focused on "that happens" and don't reduce my coffee intake, so they still hurt.
posted by nadawi at 9:10 AM on December 22, 2013

First - it seems pretty clear that my options are "benign cyst" or "breast cancer."

Not necessarily! Breast tissue has glands, and some people have more glands than others, and women who haven't reached menopause yet have more than post-menopausal women. You say your breasts are "lumpy" -- those are the glands. The glands can make your breasts sore. Here is a drawing of the glandular tissue in your breast. I used to have this problem all the time, and my doctor recommended taking fish oil supplements. It worked.

Here's something else you can read. It's an article from the American Cancer Society. Go on down to the "Pain" section. Focus on this: "breast cancers aren’t usually painful".
posted by Houstonian at 9:19 AM on December 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have had lumpy sore spots that were just...lumpy sore spots (that hurt when I pressed). I actually usually ignore them now after racing off to the doctor a couple of times. Stress, cartilage stuff, dietary changes, hormonal changes - those can all cause soreness.

Also, there are a lot of minor ductal problems that can cause soreness and weird feelings. They tend not to pop up in casual "doctor google" searches (Dr. Google says, "It's always cancer!"), but they're pretty common.

And even though many websites say that infections are not common unless you are breastfeeding, those sites are wrong. You can have a minor, lingering infection for a very long time in indeed (ask me how I know!) and not even really be sure what it was until it suddenly clears up.

There are about fifty million very minor conditions that can affect the human body and that we tend not to know about because we're only familiar with the large obvious ones - but actually the very minor conditions are incredibly common and far more likely than - for example - cancer.

Honestly, this sounds like a very unusual presentation for cancer and a very common presentation for a host of other minor problems.
posted by Frowner at 9:28 AM on December 22, 2013 [5 favorites]

I had a similar sounding problem (with similar freakout) and now that it's happened a few times I am more used to it. Thanks to some complicated hormonal stuff I have breasts that sometimes get ... milky which is annoying occasionally but also occasionally painful because since I am not breastfeeding, I can get clogged milk ducts. The worst! Sometimes the bad feeling can get exacerbated by a lot of minor mouse-arm movements which can make my pectoral muscle a little twingey. And caffeine doesn't help (but like nadawi, I still drink it and am just aware that it's not helping). So that is another option. I am with Houstonian, there are painful breast cancers but more often there are painful breast non-cancer issues that are other things. If it's a duct thing, a few pain relief things will help like hot baths or compresses (or possibly even expressing the ducts if you are built like me but you are probably not built like me) but everyone is right. You will be happier if you stop Googling and just wait. Two weeks difference is annoying (especially around holiday time) but you're doing all you can and worrying won't help. Be kind to your breasts and best of luck for some sort of dull outcome.
posted by jessamyn at 9:35 AM on December 22, 2013

Good for you for scheduling your mammo. Doctors (mammo and GYN) both told me that it's very typical. I persisted "But it hurts!" So they said if I want it to stop I need to cut out chocolate and caffeine. I told them I'll deal with the pain instead.
posted by Neeuq Nus at 9:40 AM on December 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

Update from the anonymous OP:
@nadawi - I'm 42, and because of some autoimmunity issues I've been on prednisone and a hose of immunosuppressants for quite a while (I'm off them now, things took a good turn). It's disrupted my cycle, so while I'm not technically in menopause, I almost never actually have a period anymore. If there's any correlation between the pain and my cycle, I wouldn't be able to pinpoint it.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:41 AM on December 22, 2013

Breast cancer generally doesn't hurt. It's probably not breast cancer.

That is what I learned when I had breast pain and went to see my GP, who treated me for an infection and sent me to the breast clinic here. I had a mammogram and saw a radiologist, an oncology nurse, and an oncology surgeon with a speciality in breast surgery. I was thoroughly screened and given the all clear, which was the good news. The bad news was that at the end of all of this, they handed me a glossy, heavy, beautiful eight page brochure that basically said "Breast pain: it happens. Try Evening Primrose Oil!"
posted by DarlingBri at 9:43 AM on December 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'll assume you have already ruled out pregnancy as the cause of your breast pain. YMMV, but that was my "tell" each time I've been pregnant.
posted by hush at 9:53 AM on December 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

I had something similar and the doc suggested I take Evening Primrose Oil capsules. It helped me, it cleared up, and sometimes it comes back a little and I take them again and it goes away.
posted by The otter lady at 10:04 AM on December 22, 2013

This may or may not help, but I had weird breast pain and as soon as I took a break from underwire bras it went away, so try switching to a different bra and seeing if that helps. The "genie bra" is pretty good.
posted by c'mon sea legs at 10:30 AM on December 22, 2013

It could also be a benign tumor, which is actually really not bad, the word tumor notwithstanding. I had breast pain, was assured up and down that it HAD to be a benign cyst, and was terrified because the ultrasound showed it was not a cyst. A biopsy showed it was a tumor, but a benign one.

To make a long story short, I had it surgically removed (very easy outpatient procedure with a scar so invisible that my new GYN couldn't find it) to stop the pain and... The pain didn't go away. Only then did my breast doctor remark, "oh, well, idiopathic breast pain is very common, try some evening primrose oil."

All of this is to say it could be a lot of things besides cancer, and there's no need to assume the worst.
posted by telegraph at 10:32 AM on December 22, 2013

Two totally non-scary possibilities: mammary duct ectasia and intraductal papilloma.
posted by kittydelsol at 11:45 AM on December 22, 2013

I have had left breast pain for 2 years now. Or at least I did, until I complained again to my GYN, who found no problems, and she recommended Vitamin E. Worth a shot!
posted by chainsofreedom at 11:55 AM on December 22, 2013

A good friend had breast pain which turned out to be a benign tumour in her lungs. So some breast pain can reference internal chest issues. Please note that her tumour was non-cancerous.
posted by Kerasia at 12:07 PM on December 22, 2013

I had breast pain which turned out to be an ill-fitting bra, so... Don't worry, please, OP. Don't especially research worst-case scenarios on the internet, it won't help and will only make you more scared and anxious. Go see a GP, good luck.
posted by Ziggy500 at 1:02 PM on December 22, 2013

My ex had that pain. Her doc said to cut out coffee and caffeinated drinks (don't forget soda). It worked for her. Whenever she drinks too much coffee it comes back.
posted by nogero at 1:06 PM on December 22, 2013

I recently had exactly the same symptoms as the ones you're describing. I went to my doc before scheduling a mammogram, and she did a manual exam. She said that she wasn't feeling any lumps, per se, but rather a generalized congestion in the area, which led her to think it was a blocked duct. She suggested frequent use of a heating pad on the area (for twenty minutes a session, as often as possible), avoiding ibuprofen (which apparently can make it worse), and using Tylenol to relieve the pain. So far, so good--I'm feeling better daily.

My doc also suggested waiting until I'm hurting less before getting a regular screening mammogram, since mammograms don't feel great even when there's no additional pain. I'm taking that suggestion. :)

And, echoing what others have said, my doc said that breast cancer seldom hurts, so don't scare yourself (as I did) with that particular worry. Based on my own experience, I'd recommend seeing a doc and *then* getting a mammogram, in that order. (Otherwise, ow. No fun.)

I hope you feel better soon!
posted by Janey Complainy at 3:08 PM on December 22, 2013

Nthing that there are plenty of explanations for breast pain that don't involve cancer. I'm 28 but I occasionally have pain in my left breast, my doctor said it was calcification.
posted by kassila at 3:38 PM on December 22, 2013

FWIW In my case when I went to the imaging clinic they actually strongly urged me to do an ultrasound first because they don't want to expose patients to unnecessary radiation (I am under 30). The doctor also said the same about cancer usually not being painful. Ultrasound showed nothing of concern for me so we didn't do the xray.
posted by bread-eater at 5:32 PM on December 22, 2013

Please try to relax and release the worry. You have made the appointment. I'd make an appointment with the doctor too since I suspect the mammogram will come back clean.

I know dozens of people who have had breast cancer. None of them had pain associated with it.

Worry just intensifies pain. I know it is hard to stop but do try to find ways to relax. Prayer, meditation, doing something which requires your complete attention, exercise...

(Sending good thoughts your way and a big hug!)
posted by cat_link at 5:39 PM on December 22, 2013

My ex had that pain. Her doc said to cut out coffee and caffeinated drinks (don't forget soda). It worked for her. Whenever she drinks too much coffee it comes back.

Yes, I forgot to say that my doctor also suggested cutting out caffeine. I didn't mention it because, well, I knew that would never happen in my life, so I haven't tried it. But the Vitamin E worked really well!
posted by chainsofreedom at 6:07 PM on December 22, 2013

I would suggest stopping coffee if you drink it. I get quite achey when I have too much caffeine. A week without coffee does a body good. Substitute coffee with tea if you are looking for that morning lift.
posted by seawallrunner at 9:36 PM on December 22, 2013

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