Numerous conditions can cause pain in the breast area 1. According to MayoClinic.com, breast pain may be caused by breast structures, or it may be caused by extra-mammary pain or pain that originates in a structure outside the breast 1. Chest wall problems can often mimic breast pain 1. Most causes of pain in the breast area are benign, although some types of breast area pain may indicate a serious underlying condition that requires medical attention 1.
Mastitis can cause pain in the breast area 1. According to the MedlinePlus website, mastitis is an infection of breast tissue 2. One of the most common causes of a breast infection is invasion of the breast tissue by the Staphylococcus aureus bacteria 2. Bacteria enter the breast through a break or a crack in the skin around the nipple. The infection usually manifests in the breast's fatty tissue, causing swelling that pushes on the milk ducts 2. Compression of the milk ducts causes pain, along with lumps in the affected breast 1. Breast-feeding women are among the most commonly affected by mastitis. A non-breast-feeding woman who develops mastitis should visit her physician, as this sort of pain may indicate a rare type of breast cancer 1.
Causes of Armpit Pain and Swollen Breast
Costochondritis can cause pain in the breast area 13. MayoClinic.com states that costochondritis, also called chest wall pain or costosternal syndrome, is an inflammation of the cartilage that joins a rib to the sternum or breastbone 13. The defining characteristic of costochondritis is pain in the costosternal joint--the joint at which a rib attaches to the sternum 3. In some cases, costochondritis pain may mimic the pain of a heart attack 3. Common signs and symptoms associated with costochondritis include sharp pain in the affected area, chest pain when taking deep breaths or coughing and breathing difficulties 3. Although the exact cause of costochondritis is unknown, the condition may be caused by a direct blow to the chest, physical strain such as lifting a heavy object, an upper respiratory infection, fibromyalgia or pain that's referred from other parts of the body 3.
Breast cancer can cause pain in the breast area 1. According to the National Cancer Institute, or NCI, just under 40,000 American women will die from breast cancer in 2010. Breast cancer usually manifests in the ducts--the tubes that transport milk to the nipples--and lobules or the glands that produce milk. Although breast cancer is a predominantly female disease, the condition can affect men too, although this is rare. Common signs and symptoms associated with breast cancer include mastodynia or breast pain; a lump or thickening in or around the breast area; changes in breast size or shape; dimpling of the skin overlying the breast 1. There may also be an inward-turned nipple; nipple discharge; and scaly and swollen skin overlying the breast, nipple or areola--the dark area surrounding the nipple. Certain risk factors may increase the likelihood of developing breast cancer, including advanced age, a personal or family history of breast cancer and a lack of physical activity.
Causes of Armpit Pain and Swollen Breast
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- MayoClinic: Breast Pain
- MedlinePlus: Breast Infection
- MayoClinic: Costochondritis
- Goyal A. Breast pain. BMJ Clin Evid. 2014;2014:0812.
- Eren T, Aslan A, Ozemir IA, et al. Factors affecting mastalgia. Breast Care (Basel). 2016;11(3):188-93. doi:10.1159/000444359
- Kataria K, Dhar A, Srivastava A, Kumar S, Goyal A. A systematic review of current understanding and management of mastalgia. Indian J Surg. 2014;76(3):217-22. doi:10.1007/s12262-013-0813-8
- Cancer Research UK. Fibrocystic breast changes. September 20, 2017.
- Koo MM, von Wagner C, Abel GA, McPhail S, Rubin GP, Lyratzopoulos G. Typical and atypical presenting symptoms of breast cancer and their associations with diagnostic intervals: evidence from a national audit of cancer diagnosis. Cancer Epidemiol. 2017;48:140-6. doi:10.1016/j.canep.2017.04.010
- Cuhaci N, Polat SB, Evranos B, Ersoy R, Cakir B. Gynecomastia: Clinical evaluation and management. Indian J Endocrinol Metab. 2014;18(2):150-8. doi:10.4103/2230-8210.129104
- National Institute on Aging. Shingles. October 29, 2018.
- Jokich PM, Bailey L, D'Orsi C, et al. ACR appropriateness criteria breast pain. J Am Coll Radiol. 2017;14(5S):S25-33. doi:10.1016/j.jacr.2017.01.028
- American Cancer Society. American Cancer Society recommendations for the early detection of breast cancer. 2017.
Martin Hughes is a chiropractic physician, health writer and the co-owner of a website devoted to natural footgear. He writes about health, fitness, diet and lifestyle. Hughes earned his Bachelor of Science in kinesiology at the University of Waterloo and his doctoral degree from Western States Chiropractic College in Portland, Ore.