Causes of Breast Pain in Women

The breasts are tissue made up of fat, connective tissue and specialized cells arranged in lobules, which are connected by a series of ducts. The breasts respond to cycling of hormones and undergo a series of changes throughout life as a result of hormone cycling in the various stages. Pain in the breast can result from a number of factors. If you experience prolonged or severe discomfort, or develop other symptoms, seek medical attention.


Specific hormones within the body fluctuate during the menstrual cycle, which accompany changes in breast tissue. Some women experience tenderness during ovulation, in the middle of their menstrual cycle, while many others experience tender breasts right before menstruation, according to Columbia University.

The breasts undergo swelling and slight growth over the course of the menstrual cycle, which prepares the breast for the possibility of pregnancy. The breast also changes in consistency due to growth of the lobules. According to the Ohio State University Medical Center, the cycling of estrogen and progesterone over the course of the menstrual cycle leads to slight swelling of the breast, which can cause tenderness.

Tenderness due to menstruation is generally harmless and will resolve itself over the course of the menstrual cycle.


Women generally experience breast tenderness at the onset of pregnancy, which can begin soon after conception, according to the The University of Cincinnati. Women will often experience this symptom most severely during their first pregnancy. Tenderness may occur in the nipples and along the sides of the breast and often accompanies other physical changes in the breast, according to the University of Ohio Medical Center.

Like breast soreness during menstruation, tender breasts during pregnancy are caused by estrogen and progesterone. These hormones work together to increase the size of the lobules within the breast and modify cells within the breast to begin producing milk. Women may experience slight swelling of the breast, as well as changes in breast consistency.

Breast Cancer

Tender or sore breasts may be a symptom of breast cancer. There are a number of types of breast cancer which can be effectively treated, especially if they are identified early. Sore breasts may be indicative of a tumor, along with symptoms like a change in the size of the breast, the development of inverted nipples, scaly red skin, heat emanating from the breast, a lump in the breast, or nipple discharge, according to the Johns Hopkins International Medical Center. If you experience these symptoms, you should seek medical attention to check the health of your breasts.

About this Author

Louise Tremblay recently finished an M.Sc. in molecular and cellular biology in Ontario, Canada, with years of cancer research experience. She has experience writing articles and Web content on science, heath and fitness, diet and personal wellness.