If you feel tingling in your breast or partial numbness in your breast, it's not usually a symptom of breast cancer. More often, it is a sign of early pregnancy or result of surgery.
If you experience nerve tingling or numbness in one or both breasts, you may be concerned that it's symptom of a serious medical condition. Good news: A pin-pricking sensation is unlikely to be a cause for alarm.
What Causes Nerve Tingling?
A tingling or numb sensation, also called paresthesia, is something most people have experienced. It's the pins and needles feeling you get if you've been sitting on your leg or lying on your arm and you suddenly stand up and stretch, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) 37.
When a nerve is irritated, damaged or put under pressure, it can't properly send electrical signals, according to the University of Rochester Medical Center 4. When nerve signals are "blocked" it can cause tingling sensations. Paresthesia in the breast is typically caused by changes to the breast or breast surgery. It is very rarely a symptom of breast cancer 2. Get more information on potential causes for tingling in breast, a prickly feeling in breast or partial numbness in breast.
A Sign of Pregnancy
During pregnancy, hormones cause the body to change and prepare for lactation, according to the American Pregnancy Association 89. In the first trimester, the milk ducts in the breasts grow and stretch as they fill with milk. This can make breasts and nipples more sensitive. Breasts may also feel heavier and more full.
While tenderness and tingling may be uncomfortable, know that these symptoms will typically subside in the second trimester as the breasts adjust to their new size and shape, according to HealthLink BC.
A Result of Breast Surgery
Roshni Rao, MD, chief of the Breast Surgery Program at Columbia University Medical School, says that "If [patients] have had surgery in the past, sometimes[they]describe sudden sharp pains, as well as tingling." This is because surgery can irritate or even damage nerves in the breast.
Tingling and numbness can also occur due to breast cancer surgery, according to the American Cancer Society 1. These sensations may even increase a few weeks after the procedure. The tingling may also extend to the chest wall or toward the armpit. Nerves heal slowly so it may take weeks or months for these symptoms to go away.
Read more: Vitamin B12 and Nerve Regeneration
In some cases, such as a mastectomy (removal of the breast to prevent the advancement of breast cancer) patients may not regain feeling in the breast tissue, according to the Cleveland Clinic 6. While it possible to recover some feeling, the nature of the surgery damages the nerves, meaning your breasts won't ever feel like they did before surgery.
Reconstructive breast surgery can be an option to help women recover some sensation in their breasts. Though a mastectomy can be life-saving, it can also impact a woman's quality of life. Research is ongoing to help women retain as much feeling as possible after surgery.
Dr. Rao says that tingling sensations in the breast after surgery aren't typically a cause for concern, "as long as those sensations go away." Do note where exactly the sensation occurs, however. "If the tingling or pain is on the left side, [it's important] to make sure it's not chest pain. Women, in particular, don't present with most of the common signs of a heart attack," she says, adding it's important to make sure the sensation isn't a heart attack symptom, particularly if there are other risk factors such as obesity or high blood pressure.
A Symptom of Paget's Disease
In very rare cases, tingling in the breast can be a sign of Paget's disease of the breast, an uncommon form of breast cancer 2. According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), Paget's disease occurs in 1-4 percent of breast cancer patients 2.
This form of cancer typically affects the skin of the nipple and areola (the darker skin around the nipple). Patients will often have one or more cancerous tumors within the affected breast.
Per the NCI, common symptoms include itching, tingling or redness of the nipple and/or areola. But tingling sensations alone do not indicate cancer. Paget's disease is also accompanied by flaking, crusty or thickened skin around the nipple as well as yellow or bloody nipple discharge.
Be aware that Paget's disease of the breast is often mistaken for eczema or dermatitis because it causes flaky skin, according to the NCI 2. If you have flaky skin on your nipple as well as a tingling sensation and irritation, be sure to see a doctor.
- American Cancer Society: "Exercises After Breast Surgery"
- National Cancer Institute: "Paget Disease of the Breast"
- National Institutes of Health: "Paresthesia Information Page"
- University of Rochester Medical Center: "Understanding the "Pins and Needles" Feeling"
- American Board of Cosmetic Surgery: "Breast Reduction Guide"
- Cleveland Clinic: "What You Should Know About Numbness After Mastectomy"
- National Institutes of Health: "What Are Some Common Signs of Pregnancy?"
- American Pregnancy Association: "Breast Changes During Pregnancy" "
- HealthLink BC: "Breast Changes During Pregnancy"
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