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Painful Breast Lumps: Causes and Treatment Options

written by: BStone • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 2/28/2011

A painful breast lump can be due to an injury or infection or a noncancerous growth. Although cancerous tumors are generally painless, breast cancer should be ruled out by your doctor. Learn about the specific causes of and treatments for painful lumps.

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    Breast Lumps

    There are numerous reasons that a lump or mass may form in breast tissue. In some of these cases the breast lumps may be painful. This does not necessarily indicate a dangerous condition, in fact one of the more common causes of a painful breast lump, fibrocystic breast changes, is merely due to changing hormone levels. What are the range of possible causes behind painful lumps or swelling? How is each situation addressed?

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    Causes of Slight Pain

    Both fibroadenomas and breast cysts are two benign growths that are not likely to cause pain, but they can cause mild tenderness. Fibroadenomas are firm, round tumors. What causes these growths is unknown, but they are common in women of childbearing age. A biopsy is done to diagnose fibroadenoma. It may go away on its own, or depending on the nature of the growth and the discomfort it may cause, it can be removed surgically or with a needle or destroyed by a freezing process called cryoblation. Fibroadenomas are monitored with mammograms and physical examinations to make sure they do not change or become suspicious.

    Breast cysts are benign sacs of fluid that form within breast tissue. They are usually very small and having several cysts is not uncommon. These are not dangerous but they should be properly diagnosed by your doctor, monitored for changes and they can be drained if they become problematic.

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    Fibrocystic Changes

    When hormone levels change during the menstrual cycle, the breast can become lumpy and tender and swellings may form. These are merely fibrocystic breast changes which may occur in women who are sensitive to hormonal fluctuations. A fibrocystic breast lump will go away after your period — if not it is time to visit your doctor to find out what is actually causing the painful lump. You can talk to your doctor about taking an over-the-counter pain medication for the pain, taking low-dose birth control pills and addressing your diet to help reduce symptoms each month. A low-fat, nutrient-rich diet can help.

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    Injury and Infection

    Either an injury to the breast area or an infection can also cause breast lumps that feel painful. Any injury to the tissue or nearby nerves can result in a painful lump. An infection will also cause swelling and pain. Breast infections are most often caused by a common bacteria on the skin that enters the body through a small crack, such as on the nipple (very common in breastfeeding women). Aside from pain and tenderness an infection may also result in a fever, nipple discharge and itching.

    To relieve a painful lump from an injury or infection, applying warm heat to the area is beneficial. Infections can also be treated with antibiotic medications. If a women has an infection but is not breastfeeding, testing (a biopsy and/or mammogram) is usually done to rule out cancer.

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    Can Breast Pain Indicate Cancer?

    A lump in the breast that is a sign of a cancerous growth is usually not painful, but it can be. Breast cancer lumps are usually hard and abnormally shaped. If you have painful breast lumps it is important to see your doctor. Ruling out a cancerous growth will set your mind at ease; if a lump is cancerous, detecting it early is a great way to increase the likeliness of being able to treat it. Also see your doctor to help you with noncancerous problems, such as too much pain and discomfort from cysts, fibroadenomas, changes in breast tissue due to hormonal shifts or an infection.

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    References

    "Fibroadenoma — Breast." The New York Times, http://health.nytimes.com/health/guides/disease/fibroadenoma-breast/overview.html

    Medicine Net, http://www.medicinenet.com/breast_lumps_in_women/page2.htm

    Web MD, http://women.webmd.com/tc/fibrocystic-breasts-topic-overview?page=2

    Medicine Plus, http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001490.htm

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