Clinical Review

What to do when a patient presents with breast pain

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Breast pain and normal clinical exam

When women who report breast pain have normal clinical examination findings (and have a negative screening mammogram in the past 12 months if older than age 40), there are several management strategies you can offer (FIGURE 2).

Reassurance and education. The majority of women with breast pain can be managed with reassurance and education, which are often sufficient to reduce their anxieties.

Supportive bra. The most effective intervention is to wear and sleep in a well-fitted supportive sports bra for 4 to 12 weeks. In a nonrandomized single-center trial of danazol versus sports bra, 85% of women reported relief of their breast pain with bra alone (vs 58% with danazol).12 A supportive bra is the first-line management of mastalgia (Level II evidence).

Symptom diary/calendar. Many women do not know whether or not their symptoms correspond to their ovarian cycle or are related to hormonal fluctuations. Therefore, it is reassuring and informative for them to keep a calendar or a diary of their symptoms to determine whether their symptoms occur or are exacerbated in a cyclical pattern.

Diet and lifestyle modification. Women should avoid caffeine (especially when having pain). Studies on methylxanthines have demonstrated some symptom relief with reducing caffeine intake.11,13 One cup of coffee or tea per day most likely will not make a difference. However, if a woman is drinking large quantities of caffeinated beverages throughout the day, it will very likely improve her breast pain if she cuts back. This is especially true during the times of exacerbated pain prior to her menses.

In addition, recommend reduced dietary fat (overall good health). This is good advice for any patient. There were 2 small studies that showed improvement in breast pain with a 15% reduction in dietary fat.7,8

Finally, advise that patients stop smoking. Smoking aggravates and exacerbates fibrocystic changes, and these will lead to more breast pain.

Medical management. Over-the-counter medications that are found in the vitamin section of a local drug store are vitamin E and evening primrose oil. There are no significant adverse effects with these treatments. Their efficacy is theoretical, however; 3 randomized controlled trials demonstrated no significant clinical benefit with evening primrose oil versus placebo for treatment of mastalgia.14

Topical or oral nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs; Voltaren gel, topical compound pain creams) are useful as second-line management after using a supportive bra. Three randomized controlled trials have demonstrated up to 90% improvement of mastalgia with topical NSAIDs.15-17

Tamoxifen is a selective estrogen-receptor modulator (SERM), which is an antagonist to the estrogen receptor (ER) in the breast and an agonist to the ER in the endometrium. Tamoxifen has been found to reduce symptoms of mastalgia by 70% even at a lower dosage of 10-mg per day (for 6 months), or as a topical gel (afimoxifene). The oral form can have some adverse effects, including hot flashes, and has a low risk for thromboembolic events and endometrial neoplasia.18-20

Danazol is very effective in reducing breast pain symptoms (by 80%), with a higher relapse after stopping the medication. Danazol is less tolerated due to its androgenic effects, such as hirsutism, acne, menorrhagia, and voice changes. Both danazol and tamoxifen can be teratogenic and should be used with caution in women of child-bearing age.21

Finally, bromocriptine inhibits serum prolactin and has been reported to provide 65% improvement in breast pain. Its use for breast pain is not US Food and Drug Administration–approved and adverse effects include nausea, dizziness, and hypotension.22

Tamoxifen, danazol, and bromocriptine can be considered as third-line management options for severe treatment-resistant mastalgia.

Continue to: FIGURE 2 Treatment algorithm for breast pain...

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