If you’re experiencing breast pain, tenderness or soreness, don’t freak out! It’s normal for your breasts to hurt sometimes. Here, DR GEORGETTE CHAN, a breast surgeon in Singapore (and general surgeon) explains why this happens, and what you can do to help reduce the discomfort.
Getting your period is already a pain, so feeling like you’ve been punched in the boobs is like being kicked while you’re already down!
“It’s perfectly normal to experience breast pain that fluctuates with the menstrual cycle,” says Dr Chan. She sees patients for everything from breast cancer screening (including mammograms and ultrasounds) to surgical treatment of breast cancer and post surgery rehabilitation, to the management of lumps, pain, nipple discharge and more.
A woman’s hormones change after she ovulates (around two weeks before her period); progesterone levels increase to prepare the body for pregnancy. Oestrogen levels will also start to fluctuate. This hormonal activity can create sensations of soreness and pain in the breasts.
“The pain can start about a week before the onset of menses and can last until the second or third day of the menstrual period,” she says. “Usually, both breasts will feel sore, although one side may be more uncomfortable. The discomfort could be like a dull ache or a sharp poking sensation.”
Dr Chan adds that this pattern of breast pain is due to normal physiological changes or fibrocystic changes in the breasts. So, while it can be rough, breast pain is not something to worry about.
“Breast pain is rarely a sign of breast cancer. In fact, only about 10 percent of breast cancers present as breast pain,” she says. “If the pain persists after the end of your menstrual period or gets more intense, it would be wise to consult your doctor.”
Likewise, hormonal changes can sometimes cause lumps, too. In fact, Dr Chan says that the majority of painful breast lumps are benign.
“If you find one while you’re close to your menstrual period, it could be due to temporary hormonal changes. I suggest waiting until after your period to see if it’s still there. If it is, go to see your GP or breast specialist.”
Self-help tips for alleviating breast pain
There are some simple measures that may help hormonal breast pain, explains Dr Chan. These include:
- avoiding caffeine, as it can increase fluid retention in the breasts, making them feel fuller and more sore;
- wearing a supportive bra that’s not constrictive; and
- taking Panadol for more severe cases.
Regardless of whether or not you experience breast pain, it’s advisable to do monthly self breast checks, says Dr Chan.
“Young women should ideally start doing this in their twenties to become familiar with how their own breasts feel. Seven to ten days after the start of your menses is the best time to do it, because that’s when the breasts are least sensitive.”
She adds that routine medical breast screenings are important; these may include mammogram or ultrasound, or both. Dr Chan suggests starting yearly screenings from the age of 40, or earlier if there’s a family history of breast cancer.
This article on breast pain first appeared in the June 2023 edition of Expat Living. You can purchase the latest issue or subscribe, so you never miss a copy!