Fibrocystic breasts are composed of tissue that feels lumpy or rope-like in texture. Doctors call this nodular or glandular breast tissue.
It's not at all uncommon to have fibrocystic breasts. More than half of women experience fibrocystic breast changes at some point in their lives. In fact, medical professionals have stopped using the term "fibrocystic breast disease" and now simply refer to "fibrocystic breasts" or "fibrocystic breast changes" because having fibrocystic breasts isn't really a disease.
Although breast changes categorized as fibrocystic breasts are normal, they can cause breast pain, tenderness and lumpiness — especially in the upper, outer area of your breasts. Breast symptoms tend to be most bothersome just before menstruation. Simple self-care measures can usually relieve discomfort associated with fibrocystic breasts.
It's important to have your breasts evaluated if you have specific areas where pain continues to occur or worsens, or if you have new areas of lumps or thickening that persist after your period. Your doctor will examine you to see if the new changes are concerning and to eliminate other causes.
Fibrocystic breast changes
Fibrocystic breast changes lead to the development of fluid-filled round or oval sacs (cysts) and more prominent scar-like (fibrous) tissue, which can make breasts feel tender, lumpy or "ropy.&...
Signs and symptoms of fibrocystic breasts may include:
Fibrocystic breast changes occur most often in women in their 20s to 50s. Rarely do postmenopausal women experience fibrocystic breast changes, unless they're on hormone therapy.
When to see a doctor
The exact cause of fibrocystic breast changes isn't known, but experts suspect that reproductive hormones — especially estrogen — play a role.
If you aren't yet menopausal, your discomfort may result from the way your hormone levels fluctuate during your menstrual cycle. The fluctuations can make your breasts have areas of lumpy thickening that feel tender, sore and swollen. Those fibrocystic breast changes often feel the worst before your menstrual period, and the pain and lumpiness tends to clear up once your menstrual period begins.
When examined under a microscope, fibrocystic breast tissue includes distinct components such as:
Each breast contains 15 to 20 lobes of glandular tissue, arranged like the petals of a daisy. The lobes are further divided into smaller lobules that produce milk for breast feeding. Small tubes (...
Having fibrocystic breasts doesn't increase your risk of breast cancer, unless the breast changes are associated with atypical hyperplasia (atypia) — the abnormal appearance and overgrowth of cells lining breast lobules and ducts.
Preparing for your appointment
You're likely to start by seeing your family doctor, nurse practitioner or physician assistant. In some cases, based on a clinical breast exam or findings on an imaging test, you may be referred to a breast-health specialist.
The initial evaluation focuses on your medical history. Your health care provider will want to discuss your symptoms, their relation to your menstrual cycle and any other relevant information.
What you can do
Basic questions to ask your doctor include:
Don't hesitate to ask questions anytime you don't understand something.
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
Tests to evaluate your condition may include:
Treatments and drugs
If you don't experience symptoms, or your symptoms are mild, no treatment is needed for fibrocystic breasts. Severe pain or large, painful cysts associated with fibrocystic breasts may warrant treatment.
Treatment options for breast cysts include:
Examples of treatment options for breast pain include:
Lifestyle and home remedies
You might find relief from symptoms of fibrocystic breasts through one of these home remedies:
Evening primrose oil is a form of linoleic acid that's available as an over-the-counter supplement. Many women use evening primrose oil to try to manage breast pain and other symptoms of fibrocystic breast changes. If there is no improvement after two to three months, discontinue using it.
Although the exact mechanism is unknown, some experts speculate that evening primrose oil may replace linoleic acid in women who are deficient in this essential fatty acid. Restoring linoleic acid levels may make their breast tissues less sensitive to hormonal influences.
Last Updated: 2013-03-08
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