A review of breast pain: Causes, imaging recommendations, and treatment

Rebecca Sivarajah, Janelle Welkie, Julie Mack, Rachel S. Casas, Melody Paulishak, Alison L. Chetlen

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Over two-thirds of women will experience breast pain in their lifetime. As one of the leading breast symptoms for which women seek medical attention, breast pain is suspected to be underreported and under-studied. Cyclical breast pain is related to hormonal changes. Noncyclical breast pain is independent of the menstrual cycle and can be idiopathic and related to chronic pain syndromes, infections, ill-fitting bras, musculoskeletal abnormalities, pregnancy, perimenopause, and postsurgical causes. Breast pain can also present in transgender patients and may require additional considerations as to the underlying cause. Imaging of mastalgia depends upon the suspected etiology. Inappropriate imaging for breast pain is associated with significant utilization of health care resources. Cyclical breast pain does not require an imaging work-up. The work-up of focal, noncyclical breast pain includes ultrasound for women aged younger than 40 years, and mammography and ultrasound for women aged 40 years and older. Management of breast pain is often supportive, as most breast pain resolves spontaneously. If pain persists, imaging and management should follow a step-wise approach. If conservative measures fail, second-line therapy is topical nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. If breast pain is severe and resistant to conservative methods, additional third-line therapies can be added by breast care specialists with specific knowledge of the potential deleterious side effects of these medications. While the causes of mastalgia are overwhelmingly benign, breast pain can significantly impact quality of life, and the breast radiologist should be familiar with causes, management, and treatment recommendations from a multidisciplinary approach.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)101-111
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Breast Imaging
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Radiological and Ultrasound Technology
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging


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