About Fibrocystic Breast Changes
Fibrocystic breast changes are characterized by the presence of noncancerous lumps, or cysts, in the breast. The cysts may vary in size, number, and composition; some may be filled with fluid, and others may be solid.
Over 60 percent of women develop cysts in the breast, mainly between the ages of 25 and 50. Most experts now believe that the condition represents only a variety of common, natural states or changes in the breast and is not a disease at all. Symptoms of pain and tenderness tend to be more pronounced just prior to menstrual periods. Cysts are not cancerous; however, a biopsy is the only way to make a certain diagnosis of any lump found in the breast. Symptoms may disappear after menopause.
What Causes Fibrocystic Breast Changes?
- The cause of fibrocystic breast changes is unknown.
- Estrogen and other ovarian hormones may influence the development of cysts, possibly related to monthly changes in progesterone and estrogen levels or related to dietary fat intake.
Symptoms of Fibrocystic Breast Changes
- One or more lumps or swellings, anywhere in the breast, which are often painless and move if pushed
- Discomfort, tenderness or pain around the lump or in the breast, especially during the week before a menstrual period
- Changes in the size or symmetry of the breasts and feeling of heaviness in the affected breast
- Symptoms are rare in postmenopausal women not taking hormone replacement therapy.
- If you push the lumps in your breast it will move and not feel stuck or fixed to anything.
Prevention of Fibrocystic Breast Changes
- There is no way to prevent fibrocystic changes. For the purpose of early detection, women should perform monthly breast exams, have a yearly breast exam performed by a doctor or other trained specialist, and begin having mammograms after age 40.
Diagnosing Fibrocystic Breast Changes
- Breast examination or mammography may reveal the presence of a lump in the breast.
- A biopsy of the lump, using a needle aspiration to extract fluid, or minor surgery to remove solid tissue is the only certain way to determine whether a breast lump or cyst is benign or malignant.
How Fibrocystic Breast Changes Are Treated
- Needle aspiration or biopsy may drain or remove the lump completely.
- A full-support bra (often worn both day and night) may help relieve minor breast discomfort.
- Over-the-counter pain relievers can reduce pain.
- Avoid smoking
- A reduction in caffeine such as coffee, tea, cola, and chocolate, and salt consumption may help relieve symptoms.
- Hormonal treatment (such as with oral contraceptives) may be prescribed to relieve symptoms, but this is not very effective and may be associated with undesirable side effects.
When to Call a Doctor about Fibrocystic Breast Changes
- Make an appointment with a doctor if you notice the development of a lump anywhere in the breast or under the arm, especially when no other lumps are present. Most lumps are not cancerous, but a biopsy is necessary for a definite diagnosis.
- Make an appointment with a doctor if you notice that a breast lump has become harder or more painful, changed in size, or if you experience discharge from the nipple.
Johns Hopkins Symptoms and Remedies: The Complete Home Medical Reference
Simeon Margolis, M.D., Ph.D., Medical Editor
Prepared by the Editors of The Johns Hopkins Medical Letter: Health After 50
Updated by Remedy Health Media