talking to an oncologist

The Strange Case of the Vibrating Breast

PJ Hamel Health Guide January 03, 2010
  • With thousands of posts on this site stretching back nearly 5 years, you’d assume the most engaging topic would be something like this:

    “I have a lump in my breast, what could it be?”

    Or, “What’s chemo like?”

    Or conversation around a tough decision, like “Should I have a lumpectomy or a mastectomy?”

    While these topics would be expected to generate reader interest and response, none comes close to one single thread, begun April 26, 2008, by “Joni,” who wrote as follows:

    “Strange, my left breast ‘vibrates’ every so often, sort of like a cell phone that's on vibrate! For the last three days my left breast has this strange vibration. At first I thought I was imagining it but it continues! It doesn't hurt… just feels weird. Could it be a symptom of breast cancer?”


    Since then, 135 responses have been added to the thread. Men, women, and teenagers report this strange sensation, most often saying, as Joni did, that it feels like a cell phone vibrating.

    Readers have reported underlying medical conditions from multiple sclerosis, to obesity, to acid  reflux syndrome, poor posture, chiropractic issues, vitamin B12 and vitamin B6 deficiency… to being a breast cancer survivor, and fearing this is a sign of recurrence.

    Some have reported consulting a doctor, and have gotten these responses:

    It’s an after-effect of shingles. The result of a hematoma. A reaction to the titanium clip used in a guided biopsy.

    Two readers report that they later discovered cancer in their vibrating breast. One added that her oncologist said the vibration had nothing to do with her cancer.

    One reader is sure the vibration is related to the magnetic/electronic field of laptop computers.

    What’s the story here? Is there a good explanation for The Strange Case of the Vibrating Breast?

    Nope. Just like research around the causes of cancer, there’s lots of speculation, but no definitive answer.

    I’ve done extensive online research, and have come up with the following, which at least seem like reasonable possibilities:

    •Fasciculation – a tiny twitching of the muscles in the chest wall, cause unknown, though possibly related to anxiety. Can be felt as a vibrating sensation in the breast.

    •Contractions of the tiny muscles surrounding the milk ducts in the breast. Cause unknown, though the theory is they could be due to a temporarily blocked duct. No relation to breastfeeding.

    •Spasms of the tiny blood vessels in the breast. Again, cause unknown.

    Dr. Martee L. Hensley, a medical oncologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, responded to a reader question on everydayhealth.com as follows:

    “While feeling vibrations in the breast is a rather uncommon complaint, these sensations have not been associated with any serious condition. It is sometimes hard to pinpoint an exact cause… [but it’s] highly unlikely that there is cause for alarm, whatever the specific explanation.


  • “Some possible causes may include muscle twitching – breast tissue does have a small amount of muscle in it, and these muscles may involuntarily contract, like a muscle spasm you might feel in a larger muscle. The chest-wall muscles behind the breast tissue might also contract or spasm.”

    Bottom line: Sorry, readers, I can’t tell you exactly why your breast is vibrating.

    But from reading all of your stories, I think I can safely say the vibration often goes away after several weeks. And your vibrating breast, though annoying, is not a breast cancer symptom – at least according to any of the responsible sources that track and report breast cancer symptoms.

    I’ll close the subject with this final reader comment:

    “AMAZING to see how many of us are experiencing this...why doesn't Oprah do a show on it?”

    Oprah – the ball’s in your court!

    Speaking of vibrating...
    One sure cause of a vibrating breast is someone calling you on your cell while you’re carrying it in your bra. Which brings up another issue getting some play in the press lately:

    Can cell phones cause cancer?

    Before you pooh-pooh this, the answer is – maybe.

    Researchers in Europe, where cell phones have been in widespread use longer than they have here in America, have done studies that seem to show a relationship between prolonged cell-phone use, and certain types of brain tumors.

    In this country, Senators Tom Harkin and Arlen Specter, members of the Senate’s health appropriations subcommittee, have called for federally funded research into this issue.

    How could cell phones possibly cause cancer? Well, they emit radiofrequency (RF) energy, a form of radiation. And in my opinion, just like you wouldn’t want too many chest X-rays or too much unnecessary radiation treatment, you wouldn’t want to spend too much time with a cell phone held to your ear, just inches from your brain.

    Or turned on and tucked in your bra, next to your breast.

    The National Cancer Institute Web site says, “Studies have not shown any consistent link between cellular telephone use and cancer, but scientists feel that additional research is needed before firm conclusions can be drawn.”

    That’s called hedging your bets.

    Ladies, stow those cell phones in your bag – NOT in your bra!