Why Have I Got Shooting Pain In My Breasts?
Such pain is common, and is often the result of hormonal fluctuations in the body.
Breast pain, including shooting pain, is common. In most cases this symptom is not serious, and will go away on its own.
Shooting pain in the breast is also not typically a sign of cancer, unless other symptoms accompany it. Breast pain impacts around 70% of women at some point in their lives. They often describe it as:
- stabbing, shooting, or sharp
- burning, stinging, or aching
- a swelling or heavy sensation
- a pulling or tight sensation
Is it serious?
Occasional or minor breast pain is very common and is not usually a cause for concern. However, there are a few situations in which you should seek medical help.
If you develop the following symptoms, you should immediately seek medical help:
- severe chest pain
- chest pressure
- uncomfortable squeezing or fullness in the centre of the chest that lasts for more than a couple of moments, or that goes away but then comes back
- trouble breathing, with or without chest discomfort
- discomfort or pain in the back, one or both arms, neck, jaw, or stomach
- a cold sweat, lightheadedness, or nausea
- loss of consciousness
It is also important to speak with a doctor promptly if breast pain is severe, sudden, or does not improve on its own.
Is shooting pain in the breast a cancer symptom?
Breast pain is not usually a symptom of breast cancer. However, if breast pain occurs alongside other unexplained or severe symptoms, it may be a sign of a serious condition.
If experience the following symptoms along with breast pain you must speak with a doctor as soon as possible.
- lumps or bumps in the breast or surrounding lymph nodes
- Inflammation of the breast, armpits, collarbone or around it
- changes in nipple appearance or structure, such as nipples that turn inward
- skin dimpling or the skin feeling thicker than normal and looking like an orange peel
- nipple discharge
- breast or nipple redness, flaking, thickening, or dryness
- changes in how the breasts or nipples feel or look overall
In many cases, breast pain is related to hormonal changes. It can also occur due to infection, noncancerous growths or blockages, and injury. Some common causes of breast pain include:
Many women experience breast pain and tenderness that comes and goes in accordance with their menstrual cycle.
This is known as cyclic breast pain and typically develops around a week before a period and resolves once the period begins. Cyclic breast pain tends to impact both breasts, and may cause:
- discomfort and lumpiness
- burning or prickling pain
- shooting or stabbing pain
Around 20-30% of cyclic breast pain cases resolve on their own. It can also recur in around 60% of cases.
NSAID (non steroidal anti-inflammatories) products or medications may offer relief. Other things that may reduce cyclic breast pain include:
- Supportive clothing: Wear bras that fit well and provide comfortable support. Avoid underwires and push-up bras while experiencing breast pain or tenderness.
- Evening primrose oil in a 2020 study with 1,015 participants aged 14–82 shows that taking it was significantly more effective than paracetamol.
- Medications: If you notice that a new method of hormonal birth control is causing more breast pain than normal, talk to your doctor about changing your contraception.
Pregnancy and breastfeeding
During pregnancy, certain hormones in the body rise, increasing blood flow and fluid levels in the breasts. This can cause pain, swelling, and tenderness.
The breasts can also become painful during breastfeeding. This is due to milk building up in the milk ducts. Wearing a supportive bra may help reduce pain during pregnancy. Other strategies include:
- applying gentle heat to the breast
- massaging the breasts
- expressing all the milk from the breast while nursing, to ensure it does not get clogged
- changing breastfeeding positions to allow for a better flow
Some women may experience mastitis, a bacterial infection in the breast and common symptoms include:
- sudden, intense pain
- warmth or redness
- nipple discharge
Doctors treat breast with antibiotics but you can also apply a warm cloth to the breast several times per day to ease pain.
These are oval or round growths filled with liquid and around 25% are cysts, and most are benign. Simple cysts are rounded in shape, and moveable under the skin.
If you have a large, painful, or uncomfortable cyst, a doctor may be able to drain it with a fine needle. However, if it has irregular or scalloped edges, or shows signs of containing solid areas or debris, they may want to test the cells or fluid inside. This is done to rule out any other conditions, such as breast cancer.
This condition occurs when the body begins to grow stiff scar tissue instead of breast tissue. It affects many women during their lifetime and common symptoms include:
- lumpy sections or lumps in the breast
- tenderness or breast pain
- breast heaviness or swelling
The treatment options include over-the-counter pain medications or oral contraceptives, which can reduce the symptoms. Wearing a comfortable, supportive bra may also help.
Some find that avoiding caffeine, lowering the amount of salt and saturated fat in their diet, and taking certain supplements reduces symptoms too. For example, you can try:
- eating 25 grams of ground flaxseed daily
- taking Evening Primrose oil
- taking vitamin E
These are smooth, noncancerous lumps that are easy to move under the skin. They are usually painless, but may hurt more before menstruation.
Most do not require treatment, but severe or complex lumps may require surgery to remove them.
Other common causes
Other common causes of breast pain include:
- bras that dig in or do not fit well
- having larger breasts, which can place strain on the neck or back
- medications that cause breast pain as a side effect
Less common causes of breast pain include:
Fat necrosis which occurs when fatty breast tissues die and form hard, round lumps. The symptoms of fat necrosis include:
- lumps that are often painless, but can be painful or tender
- red, bruised, or dimpled skin around the lump
- inverted nipples
- a lump containing oily fluid
In many cases, fat necrosis does not require treatment, and the symptoms resolve on their own. Doctors can drain large, awkwardly located, or painful lumps.
Mammary duct issues
These can occur when the milk duct walls thicken, causing fluid to build up in the breast. Common symptoms of include:
- black or thick green nipple discharge
- redness or swelling in the nipple
- pain in the nipple or breast
Many cases resolve on their own, but to reduce the symptoms, you can try:
- OTC pain medications
- placing warm bags or clothes over the nipple
- wearing supportive bras with pads to absorb any discharge
The difference between cyclic vs. noncyclic breast pain
Whereas cyclic pain is related to your menstrual cycle, noncyclic pain occurs in no particular pattern and does not appear to be related to menstruation. Determining whether breast pain is cyclic or noncyclic can help to narrow down the cause.
The following table lists the differences between the two:
|Cyclic breast pain||Noncyclic breast pain|
|occurs before a period||can occur at any time|
|goes away when the period begins or ends||does not come or go based on when periods occur|
|occurs in both breasts||can affect only one breast|
|tends to be worse in the upper, outer parts of the breast||can cause pain anywhere in the breast|
|stops after menopause||may continue after menopause, depending on the cause|
If you are trying to determine if breast pain is cyclic you can try keeping a symptom diary or using an app to track both menstruation and breast pain episodes.
If there is a correlation, the pain may be hormonal. If not, there may be another cause. It can also be helpful to bring symptom diaries to doctor appointments.
In some cases, pain in the breasts is actually referred pain which means it is being caused by a problem elsewhere in the body.
For example, pain around the chest may feel like breast pain. A compressed nerve elsewhere in the body could also create a sensation of pain in the breast.
Breast pain can radiate or extend from the:
- neck and shoulders
- collar bone
- upper arms
- throat or oesophagus
- upper spine
Consulting a doctor allows you to determine what is causing the pain, and so to provide recommendations for effective treatments.
There are some simple solutions to try such as wearing soft, comfortable bras, using NSAIDs, and applying gentle heat can all help ease the symptoms.
BUT If the pain does not go away, is severe or sudden, or does not appear to be related to normal hormonal changes, speak to your doctor.
If you think imbalance might be behind the pain, check your hormone levels and this article can be helpful for that.