The Case of the Painful Breast

Millions of us have a painful breast. Or two. We might keep it quiet, keep it to ourselves. Perplexed by the whole thing. Maybe we’ve seen a doctor (or three) and it feels as though there’s no concrete conclusion, no real answers as to the why of things. If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. A lot of us are out here, raising one timid hand, while the other hand clutches the offending  ouchy breast in the hopes that the pain will go away.

My painful breast reared it’s insolent head a few months after I’d had my baseline mammogram.  The doctor I’d been seeing for my yearly physicals recommended a baseline at 35 years, a new trend that’s been cropping up slowly but surely among healthcare professionals. If all looks well, you wait five years and go in for your 40 year mammo. My results were fine and dandy, so I was sent on my way with a “see you in five years” wave.

A few months later, I started having intense throbbing and searing pains in my right breast. Feeling around in there, performing a self-check of my breast was like attempting to find my way through some Minecraft world my children had devised on the computer. I felt lost and confused. Since I’ve been blessed with what docs call “fibrocystic breasts” (meaning I’ve got a ton of lumps and bumps in my breast tissue) everything feels offensive.

Did I forget to mention that I’m borderline hypochondriac? I say borderline, because I’m not the type to go in to see the doctor for every tiny, little, minute thing. BUT, given some time, my mind does begins to go a little nuts.

A cyst? Some strange nerve issues? A benign lump? Cancer? 

If the pain occurred in both breasts, I’d have chalked it up to hormones, but the pain was occurring in only one breast and Aunt Flo wasn’t around for her monthly visit. Adding to my nerves: A young friend of mine in her 20’s discovered a while back that she had Stage II breast cancer, with one of her symptoms presenting as breast pain. I just don’t want to take any chances, you know?

I went to the doctor, who referred me to a breast health center. They took me seriously, which I really appreciated. I had a 3-D mammogram, along with an ultrasound of the painful areas in my right breast. The radiologist (who the office staff referred to as “the hawk”) spent half an hour reviewing my last mammogram with the current one, and the ultrasound. She said everything looked all right, but she wanted me to come back in six months for a follow-up ultrasound, to do a comparison.

Six months later, my breast pain was still there. I started keeping tabs on when the pain was the most bothersome. It seemed to really flare up during ovulation, swelling up and getting very sore. Very tight. When someone would hug me, it hurt. Lying face down on the floor while doing yoga hurt. When my cat walked across my chest with his 13lbs of weight, I wanted to scream. I also noticed an enlarged lymph node on the right side of my chest, just under the armpit. This was concerning to the breast health clinic, but the ultrasound revealed that there had been no change from the last six month’s ultrasound, even when the radiologist decided to look at my entire breast, vs. an area or two.

She said I have an unusually high level of lymph nodes in the ouchy breast. She wasn’t sure if that was causing the pain, but the nodes all looked healthy, unaffected. I was instructed to have another ultrasound in six months, and I recently had that ultrasound. I found a new doctor here in Arizona, a breast health surgeon voted best doc four years running. He was very no-nonsense yet listened to my concerns. Here’s what he had to say in reference to my breast woes:

Breast pain in my age group is normal. He said he sees patients on a daily basis aged 30-40 who have nagging breast pain in one or both breasts.

Some of us have more lymph nodes than average. That’s normal, too. Our bodies are filled with lymph nodes. For some of us, we may have a lot of them in one localized area, which could be contributing to the swelling of my breast. I wonder if, with a hormonal surge (like ovulation or PMS) the nodes get all ansy and swell to “protect” our immune systems.

Primrose oil can help. He recommended I try the oil for 3 months, and see what comes of it. You can find primrose oil in the supplement section of your grocery store, the organic section, or at a natural foods store.

Exercise can help. I imagine keeping your body moving can help, although you have to be careful in confusing breast pain caused by upper body strength workouts with breast pain that is occurring with no outside influences.

I’ve been taking the primrose oil for a few weeks now. I’ve noticed a slight improvement so far. I’ve been working hard at keeping a healthier diet and trying to stick to my work out regime, too. I figure it doesn’t hurt to try all of this out and see what it does for me. In another six months, I’ll go in for my last ultrasound. If everything looks all right, I really, truly won’t have to go in again until I’m 40.

One of the most important things we can do is protect our health. If you have any breast pain occurring that isn’t normal for you, see a doctor. I really feel it’s better to be as proactive as we can, to the best of our abilities. Here are a few links re: breast pain, the ones I looked up when I was in need of some advice. If you have any advice you can share with me, please post it in the comments section. I’d love to hear what’s working or not working for you!

Mayo Clinic- Breast Pain

Royal Women’s Hospital


National Breast Cancer Foundation




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