A burning sensation in the breast is unusual but it can be a sign of a number of medical conditions. In rare cases, it can be a symptom of breast cancer.
A burning sensation in the breast can be caused by a number of medical conditions, but it is unlikely to be a sign of a serious medical condition like breast cancer.
"It's very unusual to have a burning sensation in the breast," Roshni Rao, MD, chief of the Breast Surgery Program at Columbia University Medical Center, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
But if you do feel a burning sensation in the breast area, the following are the most likely causes.
Infection in the Breast
Dr. Rao says that one possible cause of this painful sensation is an infection.
A breast infection, also called mastitis, most commonly affects women who are breastfeeding, according to the University of Michigan 1. If a nursing mother has a cracked or sore nipple, it can allow bacteria to enter the breast. Mastitis usually starts with a painful area in one breast, which may also be red or warm to the touch. A breast infection can also cause other flu-like symptoms including fever, chills and body aches.
Though breast infections are more common during a baby's first two months, it can happen at any time. A breast infection is usually cleared up by antibiotics. Mothers can also use over-the-counter pain medications, such as ibuprofen, to ease their symptoms.
Peripheral Nerve Damage
Another possible cause of a burning sensation in the breast is peripheral nerve damage, called peripheral neuropathy, according to BreastCancer.org 246. Peripheral nerves — the nerves that bring signals from the brain and spinal cord to the rest of the body — are very sensitive. If they are damaged, it can cause pain, tingling and numbness. Dr. Rao adds that burning sensations "could be similar to numbness or prickling" feelings.
Breast surgery is a common cause of breast nerve irritation and damage. Studies show that 25-60 percent of women experience some kind of pain after breast surgery, according to the Mayo Clinic 3. In particular, a mastectomy — a removal of the breast to prevent the spread of breast cancer — can cause a burning sensation. A mastectomy requires some of the nerves around the breast to be cut. It can take time — possibly months — for the nerve endings to heal and regrow, per BreastCancer.org 46. Be sure to discuss your pain symptoms with your doctor, who can help you come up with a pain management plan.
Inflammatory Breast Cancer
Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) is a rare type of cancer, affecting between 1-5 percent of all breast cancer cases, according to the National Cancer Institute 5. IBC is considered to be an aggressive form of cancer.
IBC causes fluid to build up in the skin of the breast, per the National Cancer Institute 5. In addition to a burning sensation in the breast area, the fluid buildup can cause swelling (edema) and redness that affects a third or more of the breast. Additionally, the skin on the breast may have ridges or appear pitted, like the skin of an orange. The breast may also grow in size (due to swelling), become heavy and tender to the touch and the nipple may become inverted (face inward).
As noted, this form of cancer is very rare. But, if you experience these symptoms, see a doctor right away. IBC can progresses rapidly, in a matter of weeks or months, per the National Cancer Institute 5. The sooner you begin treatment, the better your prognosis can be. Note that the symptoms of IBC can often be mistaken for a breast infection, which can make this condition more challenging to diagnose.
Note that the symptoms of IBC can often be mistaken for a breast infection, which can make this condition more challenging to diagnose. In addition to a burning sensation in the breast area, the fluid buildup can cause swelling (edema) and redness that affects a third or more of the breast. A burning sensation in the breast is unusual but it can be a sign of a number of medical conditions.
- University of Michigan: "Mastitis While Breastfeeding"
- Breast Cancer Now: "Peripheral Neuropathy and Breast Cancer"
- Mayo Clinic: "Coping With Pain After Breast Surgery"
- BreastCancer.org: "Mastectomy: What to Expect"
- National Cancer Institute: "Inflammatory Breast Cancer"
- BreastCancer.org: "Neuropathy"
- Purestock/Purestock/Getty Images