ACR Appropriateness Criteria® Breast Pain

J Am Coll Radiol. 2017 May;14(5S):S25-S33. doi: 10.1016/j.jacr.2017.01.028.


Breast pain (or tenderness) is a common symptom, experienced by up to 80% of women at some point in their lives. Fortunately, it is rarely associated with breast cancer. However, breast pain remains a common cause of referral for diagnostic breast imaging evaluation. Appropriate workup depends on the nature and focality of the pain, as well as the age of the patient. Imaging evaluation is usually not indicated if the pain is cyclic or nonfocal. For focal, noncyclic pain, imaging may be appropriate, mainly for reassurance and to identify treatable causes. Ultrasound can be the initial examination used to evaluate women under 30 with focal, noncyclic breast pain; for women 30 and older, diagnostic mammography, digital breast tomosynthesis, and ultrasound may all serve as appropriate initial examinations. However, even in the setting of focal, noncyclic pain, cancer as an etiology is rare. The American College of Radiology Appropriateness Criteria are evidence-based guidelines for specific clinical conditions that are reviewed annually by a multidisciplinary expert panel. The guideline development and revision include an extensive analysis of current medical literature from peer-reviewed journals and the application of well-established methodologies (RAND/UCLA Appropriateness Method and Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development, and Evaluation or GRADE) to rate the appropriateness of imaging and treatment procedures for specific clinical scenarios. In those instances where evidence is lacking or equivocal, expert opinion may supplement the available evidence to recommend imaging or treatment.

Keywords: AUC; Appropriate Use Criteria; Appropriateness Criteria; breast pain; breast tenderness; cyclic breast pain; diffuse breast pain; focal breast pain; mastalgia; mastodynia; noncyclic breast pain; nonfocal breast pain.

Publication types

  • Practice Guideline
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Breast Neoplasms / complications
  • Breast Neoplasms / diagnostic imaging
  • Diagnostic Imaging / methods
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mammography
  • Mastodynia / diagnostic imaging*
  • Mastodynia / etiology
  • Radiology
  • Societies, Medical
  • Ultrasonography, Mammary
  • United States