Is Fibrocystic Breast Disease?
Fibrocystic breast disease, commonly called fibrocystic breasts
or fibrocystic change, is a benign (noncancerous) condition in which a woman
has painful lumps in her breasts.
Fibrocystic breast disease isn’t dangerous, but it can be a bothersome
condition because it can cause discomfort. The condition is common. Your doctor
may not even refer to it as a “disease.” According to the Mayo
Clinic, more than half of women will develop fibrocystic breast disease at
some point in their lives.
Although it isn’t dangerous to have fibrocystic breasts, this
condition can make the detection of breast cancer more challenging.
Causes Fibrocystic Breast Disease?
Your breast tissue changes in response to the hormones made by
the ovaries. If you have fibrocystic breast disease, your breasts have more
pronounced changes in response to these hormones. This results in swelling and
tender or painful lumps. Symptoms are most common just before or during your
period. You may feel lumps in your breasts caused by cysts (fluid-filled sacs)
or swelling of your breast lobules (milk-producing glands). You may also feel a
lumpy thickening in your breast caused by an excess growth of fibrous tissues.
Gets Fibrocystic Breast Disease?
Any woman can get fibrocystic breast disease, but it most
commonly occurs in women in their 30s to 50s.
Birth control pills may reduce your symptoms, and hormone therapy
may increase your symptoms. Symptoms typically improve or resolve after
Breast Disease and Cancer
Fibrocystic breast disease doesn’t increase your risk of getting
cancer, but the changes in your breasts can make it more difficult for you or
your doctor to identify potentially cancerous lumps during breast exams. If you
have fibrocystic disease, your doctor also may have difficulty detecting breast
cancer in mammogram studies. Some cysts in fibrocystic breasts look or feel
like cancerous lumps and require a biopsy (a procedure that removes a small
sample of tissue) to rule out cancer.
Because fibrocystic breast disease makes cancer more difficult to
detect, you should visit your doctor regularly for breast exams. The U.S.
Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends that women between ages
50 and 74 get a mammogram every two years. The National
Cancer Institute (NCI) also recommends that women perform regular breast
self-exams. You should look for changes in your breasts. It’s important that
you become familiar with how your breasts are normally so that you’ll know when
there are changes or something doesn’t seem right.
Are the Symptoms of Fibrocystic Breast Disease?
If you have fibrocystic breast disease, you may experience
swelling, tenderness, pain, a thickening of tissue, or lumps in one or both
breasts. You may have more swelling or lumps in one breast than the other. Your
symptoms probably get worse right before your period due to hormonal changes,
but you may have symptoms throughout the month. The lumps in your breasts may also
change in size throughout the month.
The lumps in fibrocystic breasts are usually movable but
sometimes, if there’s a lot of fibrous tissue, you won’t be able to move the
lumps. You may also experience pain under your arms. Some women have a green or
dark brown discharge from their nipples. See your doctor immediately if clear,
red, or bloody fluid comes out of your nipple because this may be a sign of
Is Fibrocystic Breast Disease Diagnosed?
Your doctor can diagnose fibrocystic breast disease by doing a
physical breast exam. Your doctor may also order a mammogram or ultrasound to
get a better look at the changes in your breasts. If your doctor is concerned
about the appearance of a cyst in your breast, they may perform a biopsy
(usually by fine needle aspiration) to see if it’s cancerous.
Is Fibrocystic Breast Disease Treated?
Most women who have fibrocystic breast disease don’t require
treatment. Home treatment is usually sufficient to relieve pain and discomfort.
In rare cases, medical intervention is necessary.
Over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen (Advil) and
acetaminophen (Tylenol) can usually effectively relieve any pain and discomfort.
You can also try wearing a well-fitting, supportive bra to reduce breast pain
and tenderness. Some women find that applying warm or cold compresses relieves
their symptoms. Try applying a warm cloth or ice wrapped in a cloth to your
breasts to see which works best for you.
Medical treatment is rarely needed. If your pain symptoms are
severe, you may need treatment from your doctor to relieve your symptoms. There
are a number of treatments available:
control pills or hormones can help reduce the changes in your
breasts caused by hormones.
- Fine needle
aspiration, a surgical procedure to remove the fluid from the cyst using
a needle, can relieve pain caused by large cysts.
removal of the cyst, or lumpectomy, may be necessary if fine
needle aspiration doesn’t relieve your symptoms.
Some people believe that limiting their caffeine intake, eating a
low-fat diet, or taking essential fatty acid supplements will reduce the symptoms
of fibrocystic breast disease. However, there’s no evidence to suggest that
these or any dietary changes are effective at relieving symptoms.
You Should Call Your Doctor
Call your doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms
because they may be signs of breast cancer:
- new or different lumps in your breasts
- redness or puckering of the skin on your breasts
- discharge from your nipple, especially if it’s clear,
red, or bloody
- an indentation or flattening of your nipple
According to the Mayo
Clinic, the specific cause of fibrocystic breast disease and breast changes
isn’t fully understood. However, doctors suspect that estrogen and other
reproductive hormones play a role. As a result, your symptoms will likely
disappear once you reach menopause and the fluctuation and production of these
hormones decreases and stabilizes.