Are You Having Breast Cancer Pain?

How often does breast cancer cause breast pain? If you have breast pain, what are the chances it's cancer? What types of breast cancers are more likely to be painful? Since breast pain affects roughly half of all women at some point in our lives, these are important questions to be asking.

Learn about about how often breast cancer is painful (contrary to popular opinion, painful lumps can be cancer), and whether pain may increase your risk of breast cancer in the future.

sad woman sitting on stairs

Experiencing Breast Pain

Breast pain is usually not a sign of breast cancer. In fact, many people who are diagnosed with breast cancer after a suspicious mammogram are shockedthey no breast pain, so how could something be wrong?

The truth is that breast cancer is a rather sneaky disease that hides within breast tissue, using your body's resources to grow and thrive. Breast cancer doesn't usually begin by causing breast pain, but if it gets beyond a certain point, it can become painful. Of course, there are always exceptions to that general rule, so what do you need to know if you are experiencing breast pain and are worried about breast cancer?

Most Breast Pain Is Benign

Breast pain, or mastalgia, is uncommon with breast cancer. Most of the time, breast pain happens along with your menstrual cycle, but it can also be linked to benign non-hormonal causes. Other benign conditions which can cause breast pain include breast cysts, fibroadenomas or blocked milk ducts, but even though the pain with these conditions can be very annoying, it is not usually dangerous.

Statistics on Breast Cancer & Pain

A breast tumor—a hard clump of breast cancer cells—usually doesn't usually cause breast pain unless it reaches the size of two centimeters (almost 0.8 inches) in diameter or greater. But a tumor can be larger than two centimeters and still not cause pain.

In fact, only about 5% to 15% of women newly diagnosed with breast cancer complain of breast pain. Only 7% of those diagnosed with breast cancer seek a healthcare provider because of breast pain, excluding other symptoms.

How Breast Cancer Pain May Feel

If breast cancer is the cause of breast pain, it will often be present in only one breast, whereas benign breast pain is often on both sides. (An exception is non-hormonally related breast pain which is usually on one side.) 

Breast cancer pain can be persistent and very specific, usually hurting in just one spot. But, breast cancer can be present in your breast before it causes pain. If you have other symptoms of breast cancer, such as nipple retraction, sudden swelling of your breast, or sudden skin changes, consult your healthcare provider for a clinical breast exam.

Inflammatory Breast Cancer & Pain

Inflammatory breast cancer can cause breast pain which is usually unrelated to your cycle. Along with pain, you may notice redness, a rash, and severe itching.

Metastatic Breast Cancer & Pain

Metastatic breast cancer may also cause pain. It could be from a larger tumor—these are often over two centimeters in diameter—or pain in other regions of the body due to the spread of cancer. If breast cancer spreads to your bones, it may cause bone pain in your chest, or back pain with leg weakness. If cancer spreads to your brain, it may cause headaches. 

If breast cancer travels to the adrenal glands, you may feel a dull back pain. If your breast cancer spreads to your liver, you could have pain in the upper right part of the abdomen and develop jaundice (a yellowing discoloration of the skin).

Breast Pain and Breast Cancer in Men

As with breast cancer in women, breast cancer in men is often painless. That said, it tends to push on nearby structures more rapidly than a tumor would in most women. In addition, hormone-induced breast pain is also, of course, less likely to occur in men. If you are a man experiencing breast pain, play it safe. Breast cancer can and does occur in men, and though only one in 100 breast cancers occurs in men, that's still far too frequent.

Does Breast Pain Increase the Risk of Breast Cancer?

Though it's uncommon, there are some painful breast conditions which may raise your risk. Both radial scars and multiple or complex fibroadenomas increase your risk of breast cancer (up to two times as high.) Many breast conditions which cause pain confer only a minimally increased risk of breast cancer, such as ductal ectasia, fat necrosis, a breast abscess, simple fibroadenomas, and others.

When to See Your Healthcare Provider

It's important to talk to your healthcare provider if you have breast pain from any cause. Even if it's not due to cancer, many women find that breast pain decreases their quality of life. In one study,15% of the women experienced breast pain at some time in their life that interfered with work and family activities. So, make sure to talk to your healthcare provider if you are experiencing any suspicious discomfort.

A Word From Verywell

Just as there is a popular myth that a lump that is painful can't be breast cancer, there are many falacies surrounding the causes and diagnosis of breast conditions and cancer. Unfortunately, the incorrect understanding that painful lumps are harmless has led some women to dismiss their symptoms as insignificant. If you have concern over a change in your breast, don't rely on information that may be inaccurate or that may not take into account that there are exceptions to almost every rule in medicine. Listen to your body. Find a healthcare provider who carefully listens to your concerns, if you are not heard, find another. Sadly, missing a diagnosis of breast cancer is a common reason for malpractice suits. While those lawsuits may cause a healthcare provider grief, they could cost a woman her life.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Alkabban FM, Ferguson T. Cancer, Breast. [Updated 2019 Jun 4]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2019 Jan-. Available from:

  2. Powell RW. Breast Pain. In: Walker HK, Hall WD, Hurst JW, editors. Clinical Methods: The History, Physical, and Laboratory Examinations. 3rd edition. Boston: Butterworths; 1990. Chapter 169. Available from:

  3. National Breast Cancer Foundation. Breast Pain.

  4. 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 diagnosisCancer Epidemiol. 2017;48:140–146. doi:10.1016/j.canep.2017.04.010

  5. Smith RL, Pruthi S, Fitzpatrick LA. Evaluation and management of breast pain. Mayo Clin Proc. 2004;79(3):353-72.

  6. Morrow M. The evaluation of common breast problems. Am Fam Physician. 2000;61(8):2371-8, 2385.

  7. Powell RW. Breast Examination. In: Walker HK, Hall WD, Hurst JW, editors. Clinical Methods: The History, Physical, and Laboratory Examinations. 3rd edition. Boston: Butterworths; 1990. Chapter 176. Available from:

  8. Lee MD, Michelle, Owen MD, Wendi. My Breast Hurt. Should I be Worried? Society of Breast Imaging. September 27, 2019

  9. Molckovsky A, Fitzgerald B, Freedman O, Heisey R, Clemons M. Approach to inflammatory breast cancerCan Fam Physician. 2009;55(1):25–31.

  10. [Internet]. Cologne, Germany: Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG); 2006-. Pain management in metastatic breast cancer. 2012 Feb 14 [Updated 2016 Apr 7]. Available from:

  11. Rostami R, Mittal S, Rostami P, Tavassoli F, Jabbari B. Brain metastasis in breast cancer: a comprehensive literature review. J Neurooncol. 2016;127(3):407-14.

  12. Cingam SR, Karanchi H. Cancer, Adrenal Metastasis. [Updated 2019 Jan 20]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2019 Jan-. Available from:

  13. Sanguinetti A, Polistena A, Lucchini R, et al. Male breast cancer, clinical presentation, diagnosis and treatment: Twenty years of experience in our Breast UnitInt J Surg Case Rep. 2016;20S(Suppl):8–11. doi:10.1016/j.ijscr.2016.02.004

  14. Khattab A, Monga DK. Cancer, Male Breast Cancer. [Updated 2019 Feb 14]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2019 Jan-. Available from:

  15. Yıldırım AC, Yıldız P, Yıldız M, Kahramanca Ş, Kargıcı H. Mastalgia-Cancer Relationship: A Prospective StudyJ Breast Health. 2015;11(2):88–91. Published 2015 Apr 1. doi:10.5152/tjbh.2015.2492

  16. Ajmal M, Van Fossen K. Breast Fibroadenoma. [Updated 2018 Dec 13]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2019 Jan-. Available from:

Additional Reading