Susan Biali, MD
Many of my patients with breast pain are afraid that it may be cancer
Many of my patients with breast pain are afraid that it may be cancer. Generally speaking, breast pain is not a risk factor. As well, multiple lumps that fluctuate in size with the menstrual cycle are highly unlikely to be cancerous. Nonetheless, always get a physician's opinion. Changes in the breast skin or nipple or an isolated non-tender lump always merit a visit to your doctor.
The milk-secreting portion of your breast is composed of glandular cells that drain into lactiferous ducts. Premenstrually, these cells increase in size and number and the ducts themselves widen. Your breasts may become increasingly lumpy, swollen and tender as menstruation approaches. For some, this only lasts for a day or two; for others, it can be weeks of discomfort. Still others may find that their breast pain has no pattern. It tends to wax and wane.
This most common of breast conditions was formerly known as "fibrocystic breast disease," which was rather ridiculous. Almost all lumps are a natural response to our cyclical hormones and are now referred to as "fibrocystic change." You should perform breast self-examinations early in your cycle. Otherwise, the sheer number of lumps would ring unnecessary alarm bells and make it more difficult to identify a persistent solitary lump.
The Estrogen Factor
Our breasts are very sensitive to hormonal changes. According to Dr Christiane Northrup, author of Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom, high fat and high carbohydrate diets increase estrogen levels that contribute to breast pain. Women with high levels of body fat have an additional problem, as fat actually manufactures estrogen.
Soluble fibre, found in citrus fruits, oats and beans, beneficially increases excretion of excess estrogens. Soy foods and cruciferous vegetables decrease the ability of estrogens to bind to breast tissue. If you regularly consume dairy or animal products, buy organic products to minimize exposure to added hormones.
Caffeine is a major cause of breast pain in women. Sources include coffee, tea, chocolate or colas. Once, as a medical student, I went to my doctor about my tender, unusually swollen chest. I was nowhere near my period and was concerned that something was seriously wrong. After a few pointed questions, my doctor uncovered the culprit the Easter bunny! The weekend prior I had consumed an entire chocolate rabbit, which completely accounted for my symptoms.
Treatments Spell Relief
Conventional treatments for painful breasts include the birth control pill and anti-estrogen drugs such as Danazol, Bromocriptine and Tamoxifen. All have significant side-effects. Women should look to natural methods first.
The antioxidants vitamin E and selenium should be part of your nutritional regimen. As well, women who also have premenstrual syndrome may be lacking in B6. Take this in the form of the B-complex. Iodine, found in sea vegetables such as kelp, can be helpful, though it should be avoided by those with thyroid conditions.
Women with breast pain are also often lacking in the essential fatty acid gamma linolenic acid. Evening primrose oil is a rich source of GLA and has provided relief to many women. The omega-3 fatty acids in fish and flax oil are also therapeutic and may even be protective against breast cancer.
Underwire bras may prevent proper lymph drainage and thus contribute to breast congestion. Some women find that going without a bra is very helpful, while others find that a non-wired sports-type bra is much more comfortable.
Live your life fully and as naturally as possible. Your breast pain may soon be a distant memory.