Clinical Review

What to do when a patient presents with breast pain

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In summary

Evaluation and counseling for breast pain should be managed by women’s health care providers in a primary care setting. Most patients need reassurance and medical explanation of their symptoms. They should be educated that more than 95% of the time breast pain is not caused by an underlying malignancy but rather due to hormonal and fibrocystic changes, which can be managed conservatively. If the clinical breast examination and recent screening mammogram (in women over age 40) results are negative, patients should be educated that their pain is benign and undergo a trial of conservative measures: wear and sleep in a supporting bra; keep a calendar of symptoms to determine any relation to cyclical changes; and avoid nicotine, caffeine, and fatty food. Topical pain creams with diclofenac and evening primrose oil also can be effective in ameliorating the symptoms. Breast pain is not a surgical disease; referral to a surgical specialist and diagnostic imaging can be unnecessary and expensive.

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