What are the causes of breast tenderness & swelling?

Written by heather rutherford
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What are the causes of breast tenderness & swelling?

Experiencing breast tenderness and swelling for the first time or for an abnormally prolonged amount of time can be a somewhat jarring experience. With one in 12 women getting breast cancer, this is naturally where the mind goes. However, nearly every woman experiences breast tenderness and swelling at some point in her life and the causes are almost always unrelated to cancer.


A breast infection, most frequently caused by clogged sebaceous glands or breastfeeding, almost always results in tender and swollen breasts. While tenderness and swelling may be the first signs of an infection, a fever is likely to develop shortly. To prevent the spread of the infection, it is wise to have a serious infection addressed by a physician.


According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, hormones are the most common cause of breast tenderness and swelling. Tenderness surrounding menstruation is referred to as cyclical breast pain and is no cause for concern. However, hormones work in other ways as well. Girls who are nearing puberty, menopausal women and pregnant women can all expect some breast tenderness and swelling at odd times throughout the month. Hormonal medications like oestrogen treatments or birth control pills will have the same unpredictable results.


Some women develop breast cysts. Often these liquid-filled sacks go unnoticed. However, tenderness and swelling may occur, particularly when multiple cysts appear. While most cysts are benign, it is still important to have the potential cyst examined for possible malignancy or fibrocystic condition. To determine whether or not you may have a breast cyst, consider the fact that discomfort experienced with cysts is noncyclical, meaning that it is unrelated to your menstrual cycle.


Occasionally, a single benign tumour will grow within the breast. While the tumours themselves are usually painless, the larger they get, the more likely you are to experience breast swelling and tenderness. These fibroadenomas, as they are called, are typically found in premenopausal women under the age of 50 and can be treated and tested with a simple biopsy.


According to the American Cancer Society, there is only one type of breast cancer that causes breast pain, inflammatory breast cancer (IBC). IBC is extremely rare and found in only 1 to 3 per cent of all breast cancer cases. Therefore, breast pain is an unlikely symptom of breast cancer. However, an advanced breast cancer with large tumours may push the breast tissue enough to cause breast tenderness and swelling. If this is a concern, it is important to see a doctor to immediately assess the core problem and causes of your breast tenderness and swelling.

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