Imaging Tests For Breast Pain Don't Have Significant Benefit, Study Shows

If you're a woman experiencing breast pain, one of your first instincts might be to ask for an imaging test to see if something is wrong, right?

Well, a new study shows that imaging tests for breast pain might not have any significant benefit. The research, published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, found that for women with a totally normal breast exam, having an MRI, mammogram or ultrasound didn't seem to make a difference in any decisions on the part of the doctor and the patient.

"While some have suggested that doing further testing in women with breast pain will help to reassure the patient, we did not find this to be the case," study researcher Mary Beth Howard, MS, an MD candidate at the Boston University School of Medicine, said in a statement.

Researchers noted that there are no set guidelines on how breast pain should be handled by a doctor, though it might make some women feel more at ease if they have an imaging test done.

The study involved 916 women who had breast pain and were referred to the Boston Medical Center between 2006 and 2009. The researchers looked at how the women who received imaging tests were diagnosed and treated, compared with women who didn't receive imaging tests.

In total, six of the women had cancer. All of them had another sign of cancer -- like cancer in the other breast found by a screening mammogram, or a lump in the breast. Researchers also found that for the women who got the imaging tests just for then breast pain, there were the added negative factors like having to visit the doctor more times, having to undergo more mammograms and being tested more times.

According to the Mayo Clinic, breast pain very rarely means that a woman has breast cancer, though you should still see a doctor if you feel it. The feelings of pain can range, from breast tenderness, to a burning sensation, to tightness in breast tissue.

There are multiple possible causes of breast pain, ranging from hormones and your menstrual cycle, to breast cysts or trauma, to certain medication use, to breast size, the Mayo Clinic reported.

Tests to diagnose the cause of breast pain include a physical exam, where a doctor will check the breasts and lymph nodes, as well as other parts of the body close to the breast -- like the heart, or lungs -- to make sure they are not the cause of the pain. If there's a breast lump or thickening or pinpointed pain, the doctor might then choose to do mammography, an ultrasound or a biopsy to rule out cancer, according to the Mayo Clinic.