Fibrocystic breasts are a common condition that causes lumps, thickened tissue and swelling. It is estimated to affect more than 60 percent of all women, especially those between the ages of 20 and 50. Many health care providers prefer the term “fibrocystic breast changes” when referring to the condition because it is so widespread and is not considered a disease.
Fibrocystic breast changes do not increase the risk of breast cancer. Rather, it is a benign condition that is believed to be caused by changes in hormone levels during a woman’s menstrual cycle. Fibrocystic breast changes can affect different parts of the breast and occur in both breasts at the same time. Symptoms of fibrocystic breast changes usually worsen right before menstruation and include:
· Dense, lumpy breasts
· Breast discomfort or feeling of fullness
· Dull pain and tenderness
· Nipple discharge
A woman who experiences fibrocystic breast changes may have areas of fibrous tissue in the breast that feel rubbery, firm or hard to the touch. Fibrocystic changes also may include the development of fluid-filled sacs within the breast called cysts. These cysts begin as fluid builds up inside breast glands. They can grow to be as large as one to two inches in diameter and cause pain when surrounding breast tissue is stretched. Cysts can be diagnosed using fine needle aspiration. Cysts can be drained at the same time to reduce pain and pressure if they are causing discomfort.
There are no specific treatments available for fibrocystic breast changes. Some women have found that a correctly fitting, supportive bra can alleviate pain. Birth control pills may sometimes be prescribed to help lessen symptoms. Other ways to decrease tenderness and discomfort associated with the condition may include avoiding caffeine, taking over-the-counter pain medications, eating a low-salt diet and trying natural vitamin E supplements. Symptoms of fibrocystic breast changes frequently disappear following menopause.
All women are encouraged to perform monthly breast self-exams. However, it is especially important for women with fibrocystic breast changes to do these exams on a regular basis, preferably about one week after a period ends. This allows a woman to know what is normal for her breasts and to see a doctor if she notices any change that is out of the ordinary. A woman should see her doctor if she has new lumps, a lump that is growing, a distinctive lump instead of just a lumpy area or a change in breast size. The American Cancer Society recommends that women over the age of 40 also should have a mammogram every year as well as an annual clinical exam.
Fibrocystic breast changes are quite common and, while uncomfortable, they are not life-threatening. For more information about the condition and for tips about how to perform a monthly breast self-exam, talk with your doctor. For a free referral to a physician to care for your women's health needs, please call 800-681-2733.