Original Article

Symptomatic Breast Cancers and Why Breast Pain May not Always Need Clinical Review


  • Nicola Cook
  • Jeremy Batt
  • Clare Fowler

Received Date: 14.04.2020 Accepted Date: 22.06.2020 Eur J Breast Health 2020;16(4):267-269


Breast pain contributes a heavy burden to the symptomatic breast clinic, accounting for a large number of referrals due to patient/clinician subjective anxiety and unclear aetiology. We assess the link between breast pain and cancer with a view to easing the demand on breast services.

Materials and Methods:

All new breast cancer diagnoses were identified from the multidisciplinary team outcomes for the 12 months between October 2017 and October 2018. Presenting symptoms were identified from the General Practice referrals and consultant letters. Examination findings were checked with details on imaging requests.


436 new symptomatic cancer diagnoses were made in patients with a median age of 68 (range 25-97). 334 patients were referred by General Practice as two-week waits who formed the cohort selected for analysis (77%). New lumps accounted for 294 ipsilateral cancer diagnoses (88%), nipple symptoms for 28 (8%) and pain with normal examination for 12 (4%, all screening aged patients). All 12 cancers in the patients presenting with pain were correctly identified on mammography, including 4 cancers in the symptomatic breast and 8 Incidental cancers in the contralateral, non-symptomatic breast.


Pain does not appear to be frequent symptom of breast cancer presentation. It was more common for patients to have incidental, contralateral asymptomatic cancer than it was for patients with pain alone to have underlying ipsilateral cancer. In such cases, new cancers were identified accurately on mammography. Patients presenting with pain as an isolated symptom, having been carefully assessed in Primary Care, may yield little benefit in repeat clinical examination by a Breast Specialist. Direct to test with mammography could be safe, effective and efficient alternative practice.

Keywords: Breast cancer, breast clinic, breast pain, mammography, mastalgia