Fibrocystic breasts are composed of tissue that feels ropy, lumpy or bumpy 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 at all.
Although the 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 alleviate discomfort associated with fibrocystic breasts.
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.&...
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.
When examined under a microscope, fibrocystic breast tissue includes distinct components such as:
Each of your breasts 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 during pregnancy and breast-...
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. Women with atypia do have an increased risk of breast cancer compared with the general population. A diagnosis of atypical hyperplasia often is made following a breast biopsy to evaluate a mammogram or an abnormality found during a clinical breast exam.
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 examination or findings on an imaging test, you may be referred to a breast health specialist.
What you can do
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:
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 — taking one capsule up to three times a day — to manage breast pain and other symptoms of fibrocystic breast changes. Although the exact mechanism is unknown, 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: 2010-08-20
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